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Nine Chances

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Ο Ο Ο

 

 

PRELUDE: 

 

REVIVAL

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

It was significantly colder than Richie had expected it to be when he first stepped foot into the godforsaken town of Derry, Maine. It was supposed to be summer, he reminded himself. There was no such thing as cold summers in America. And yet, Maine was definitely colder than the California weather he had grown accustomed to over the years. 

 

Part of him was begging to turn around and get right back into the taxi, onto the plane, fly home, and forget all over again as soon as the realization hit him that he was actually in Derry. The place where his entire life had nearly fallen apart, simply because— 

 

Why? Why had his life nearly fallen to pieces? Obviously It had something to do with it. The name caused his breath to hitch, his heart to pound, and his palms to sweat. He swallowed the growing lump in his throat as his taxi driver placed his bags on the sidewalk beside him. He thanked the man politely and took his luggage, paying the correct amount with a small tip and turning to face the Derry Townhouse. Cold dread had been weighing in his stomach ever since he got Mike Hanlon's call, and with good reason, although he couldn't remember much about what that reason was. 

 

Taking a deep breath, the man started up the worn down concrete path and hauled his case up the wooden steps to the old complex, entering the air-conditioned building and even daring to shiver. He felt like everyone was staring at him, but there was only one person in the room, and he was waiting for Richie to check in. Anxious and discombobulated by the weight of being in the place he had hoped never to return to, Richie hurried up to the front counter and let out a long puff of breath, cheeks inflating as he did so. 

 

"Just a room for one, please," he requested, digging his wallet out of his back pocket. His eyes scanned the picture of his mother quickly before he pulled out a wad of cash, hoping against hope that he had enough for what he, again, hoped, would be an extremely quick stay. 

 

"It's $12.50 a night, sir," the man said, pulling a key off of one of the hooks on the back wall. Richie was admittedly unsurprised to see that almost none of the rooms were occupied. Derry had never been a big tourist spot. Too gloomy. Not usually weather-wise, but certainly emotionally. Nothing ever felt right, to say the least. Richie handed over two $20's and grabbed his bag, insisting he could do it himself as he took the key from the man and headed towards the stairs. 

 

It wasn't a long climb, seeing as he was only on the second floor, but the hallway felt unbelievably long. He knew he was getting there earlier than he really had to— Mike had called just the previous day— but he felt a strange sense of urgency, like something, or someone was waiting for him. 

 

Eddie. 

 

The rush had hit him the moment the name tumbled from Mike Hanlon's mouth. Richie had packed his bags faster than he had on his way out of this hell, which he was beginning to regret as a wave of exhaustion hit him and he missed the keyhole on his door for the third time. His head fell forward to rest against the wooden frame, and he took a deep breath, before trying one more time and finally succeeding. 

 

He threw the door opened and kicked his shoes off, allowing it to swing shut behind him. He untucked his shirt, unbuttoning it and tossing it into the corner as he threw his suitcase down on the end of his bed. Doubts and anxious thoughts swarmed him like moths around a light when it was dark, so he busied himself with unpacking, a strange desire to keep himself moving hitting him like a brick. 

 

He opened each drawer and put the few articles of clothing that he had brought with him away in organized piles, something he never would have done as a child, but as he went the placement got sloppier and sloppier to the point where it really had started to look like his old bedroom drawers. Once his clothes had all been tucked away he put his toiletries in the bathroom, and ran a hand through his hair, sighing heavily. His forefinger lifted to push his glasses up on his nose, but he just ended up prodding himself in the eye. 

 

Tearing up and hissing in pain, he quickly blinked out his contact, holding it gingerly on the tip of his finger and holding his eye firmly with his free hand as it burned. Confusion and nervous energy crackled around him as he tried to recall the last time he had reached for his glasses on instinct like that. He hadn't even worn sunglasses in years. He had broken the habit ages ago. 

 

Slightly unsettled and still bearing with the dull sting, Richie wiped his eye with a tissue to clear it of the instinctive tears before heading into the bathroom to replace his contact. It took him a few extra tries, almost as if his fingers had forgotten how to function the proper way, but he brushed it off, shaking his head in a futile attempt to clear it. 

 

Distrust and discomfort in his situation had settled in long before he even entered his room, but now it was just heightened. He felt on-edge, ad if anything could happen at any time. As if It was just going to pop out from under his bed, or from in his closet, laughing and pointing at him, and when Richie looked in the mirror, he would see himself the way he used to look— Coke-Bottle glasses, huge front teeth, wild hair. The definition of ugly. At least, that was what most people had seemed to think. 

 

Richie picked up the thing nearest to him, which happened to be a book, and started flipping absently through the pages solely for the purpose of having something to do with his hands. He pushed the thoughts of It aside just as the repressed memories pushing at the back of his mind started to give him a headache. He wished he had remembered to bring aspirin. 

 

Eddie will have some, he found himself thinking, and was surprised at the thought. Would Eddie have some? Surly he would. Eddie always had medicine with him, didn't he? The thought made Richie laugh, though it was brief. Eddie Kaspbrak, what with his perfectly styled hair and pockets overflowing with pills, but most importantly, his aspirator. Eddie Kaspbrak, with his lightly freckled face, and big brown eyes alight with hostility as Richie pinched his cheek and informed him for the thousandth time of how 'cute' he was. 

 

Because Eddie had been cute. Richie could certainly remember that much since he had heard the name for the first time in nearly twenty-seven years. Eddie had been very cute, both inside and out. Mousy-brown hair, short but fun-sized, although he had usually been more grumpy than anything resembling amusement. But when he did smile, God, was it contagious. It could have lit up an entire room, and Richie always found himself smiling back, no matter the situation. 

 

"God, Tozier, pull yourself together!" He grumbled to himself, pressing his cold hands to his lightly blushing cheeks. "You were both eleven, for Christ's sake." The child-like side of him that he had locked away long ago suddenly forced it's way out and mentally pinched him for using the lord's name in vain, though it was more of a teasing jab than anything else. He had never been as passionate about church as either of his parents, which was why he had felt so comfortable with his teasing of Eddie. To others it had almost definitely come across as couple-y, which was what he supposed he had been aiming for at the time, in his own cruelly teasing way. 

 

Richie finally wrenched his thoughts away from his long-time best friend, of which he had never had a friend that could compare since, and looked down at the book he was holding. It was a phone book, and the page he had stopped on after flipping for countless minutes had the Derry Public Library right at the top. Slightly disturbed but deciding it was what he should be doing anyway, Richie picked up the phone from it's cradle on the bedside table and dialed the number into the box, holding the receiver to his ear. 

 

"Hello, this is the Derry Public Library, how can I help you?" A male voice drifted through the speaker, not one that Richie was familiar with yet, but one that he had heard before. He hesitated, pinching the bridge of his nose and exhaling slowly as exhaustion tugged at the back of his tired mind. He forced a smile onto his face even though Mike couldn't see him and greeted the man the way he probably expected to be greeted by someone such as Richie. 

 

"Michael, my man! How are you holding up down there? Need some reinforcements?" He joked, tugging absently at his hair. It was already messy enough, there was no reason not to play with it more. There was a moment of silence, and Richie sighed. "It's... Richie. I'm here. I'm calling to talk about the plan, you know, for everyone meeting up and stuff. 

 

"... I missed you, Tozier." And even through the static-filled muffle of the phone, Richie could detect the utter relief in his old, old friend's voice. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

1:   Living Water

 

So I washed up on the shoreline

To chase the city lights

Sold my voice to the people

But nothing changed inside

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

Walking up to the library was the first thing Richie had done that was unfamiliar in the sense that he had probably never done it before. He smiled a little bit, shaking his head as he walked up the steps and into uncharted territory, into a building he had only ever seen from the outside as a child. 

 

It was air-conditioned, just like the Townhouse, but Richie had almost immediately grown accustomed to the weather after a simple walk from where he was staying to where he was going. He had brought a sweatshirt, but it hung loosely around his waist, useless to him. His phone weighed down in his pocket, as if cringing from all of the paper resources around it that could grant Richie just as much information, if not more. 

 

A simple white T-shirt hugged his form, and he felt plain. Were they not to be going out to lunch that afternoon? Perhaps he should have worn something fancier, but a T-shirt and jeans were the first things he grabbed, so he had just thrown them on and left. 

 

He had never been in the library, but something he was certain would have lured him in was the fact that there was a gift shop. Penny candy, postcards, sodas, everything a twelve year old Richie could have possibly wanted. He walked in, marveling at the different items lined up along the walls and shelves. 'Derry, Maine' and 'I ♥ Derry' sweatshirts hung from racks, folded and displayed on one shelf in particular. Scoffing, Richie zipped over just for a quick peek, disbelieving the fact that anyone would sell such merchandise. 

 

Sticking out like a sore thumb along the rack where the sweatshirts hung from hangers was a button-up short-sleeved shirt, not unlike the ones Richie had worn back in the day. He did a double-take, grabbing it and pulling it off of the hanger to examine it more closely. The fabric was rough, stiff, just like it always used to be, but Richie had always worn them anyway because he thought they made him look cool when he rode his bike and the tail-end would fly out behind him. 

 

Smile widening, Richie made a quick decision and hurried up to the counter with it before he could change his mind. He tossed down a $20 and clipped the tag off, nearly giddy with excitement as he threw on the garment, enjoying the fluttery feeling of it settling upon his shoulders. He had to admit, he looked a bit more dressed up, though that was probably his twelve year old self talking. Satisfied with his purchase and now a considerable amount more excited to find Mike and show off his shirt, Richie walked back into the main area of the library and started towards the front desks. 

 

He saw Mike before Mike saw him. The man looked good. He was taller, and his shoulders seemed to have gotten broader, which, in Richie's opinion, was a 'fuck you' to the Trashmouth himself. He had always teased his friend about his size, but Mike had worked on a farm, so it was to be expected that he had muscles the rest of them hadn't flexed in a while. 

 

"Mikey, look at my shirt I just bought!" Richie whisper-shouted once he was close enough, jumping over the counter so he was right beside his friend. "It's just like the ones I used to wear. God, I feel old, nobody ever wears these anymore unless they're in Hawaii." He snorted, shaking his head and glancing around. Almost nobody was there. It struck Richie as rather odd that there had been such a shirt in a library's gift shop now that he was actually thinking about it, but he tried not to let it bother him. 

 

"Very snazzy, Rich," Mike agreed, unable to hide his smile. "You're right, it's practically the same. I didn't know our gift shop sold those!" He shrugged, tapping the counter with his fingertips to the beat of some unheard music. 

 

"Any word from the others yet..?" Richie asked a bit hopefully, though he was truly a mess of nervous anxiety that made his stomach twist into knots. He would be seeing his friends again. The friends he hadn't seen in twenty-seven years. More specifically, and perhaps a bit more frighteningly, he would be seeing Eddie again, which was enough to make his heart stop all by itself. 

 

"Bev texted just a few hours ago, her flight will be here soon. Ben too, their flights were at the same time. Eddie is driving, he should actually be here soon, since he lives only about seven hours away... I'll have to let him know you're here, he was asking about you." Mike completely lost him after that, rambling about the remaining Losers, but Richie's mind had come to a screeching halt. 

 

"He asked about me?!" Richie blurted out, completely cutting off whatever his friend had been saying. "Eddie, I mean. What was he asking about? Did he ask about anyone else?" Mike looked taken aback, but not surprised. A knowing smile spread across his face, and Richie's cheeks heated up at the sight. The taller man pulled out his phone, unlocking it and holding it out towards Richie. 

 

"No, Richie. He actually didn't ask much about anyone else." Texts were pulled up on screen, and there wasn't much to scroll through, but there was one message from Eddie that rather forcefully demanded whether or not Richie would be attending their 'reunion'. His heartbeat quickened a bit, and he felt a sense of warmth at the thought of his old friend wondering about him. 

 

"Ask him where he is!" Richie insisted, pointing at the screen. Mike quickly typed out the question and hit send. They stared intently, and Richie felt himself obsessing over the answer as he waited for it to pop up on screen. What if Eddie had changed his mind when he heard Richie was going to be there? Or what if he was right around the corner? God, what if he was right outside the door? 

 

Or maybe he was at the Derry Townhouse, a five minute walk away, unpacking his bags as his next text confirmed. Anxiety squirmed in Richie's stomach and the familiar feeling of inability to stay still crept into the back of his mind. He shifted from foot to foot, tugging at the seams of his cheap new shirt as he eyed the door anxiously. 

 

"I'll ask him to meet us here when he's done," Mike told him, eyeing his antsy posture with amusement in his dark eyes. Richie bit his lip, hesitating, and tearing his gaze away from the door to look back at his friend. 

 

"Don't tell him I'm here!" He said quickly. "Or else, he might not want to come." Mike laughed at that, throwing his head back. Richie frowned, uncomfortable with the other man's obvious disagreement with his statement. Didn't Mike know? Despite the anticipation and excitement Richie felt towards seeing Eddie, the most memories he had of his old friend were ones where the boy was angry with him, or at least frustrated. There was a very good chance that he wouldn't be welcomed. 

 

"Richie, I hardly think that you have to worry about Eddie avoiding you. He's already asking if you're here or not, and he stopped half-way through unpacking just to start walking over here. That was two minutes ago, so you'd better prepare yourself, because I don't want to have to splash water on your face if you faint," Mike warned, raising his eyebrows. "It's annoying to clean up. Look, just relax. Obviously Eddie is excited to see you." 

 

Richie tried to take Mike's advice, feeling more and more childish with every second passing by. He fiddled with everything he could get his hands on, pacing around behind the desk and picking things up only to put them down again moments later. The thought of adding all of the others to the mix later on that night just made him feel worse, so he pushed the idea away, running a hand through his hair and nearly poking himself in the eye again as he reached to straighten his nonexistent glasses. 

 

Frustration struck him like lightning as he recalled the case containing his old spectacles back at the Townhouse. He hadn't been planning on bringing them, but they had been stuffed at the bottom of his toiletry bag and he had pulled them out while unpacking. Now part of him wished he had put them on, for some strange reason that caused his head to spin. 

 

Seconds ticked into minutes, ticked into what felt like hours, but Eddie walked in the door exactly when Richie had expected him to, which was surprising and unsurprising at the same time. He froze, staring at the man with eyes wider than wide, probably almost as big as they used to look behind his thick lenses. 

 

The brunette hadn't spotted them yet, and Richie scurried over to Mike, peering over his friend's shoulder at the man he was so nervous and yet so excited to see. Brown eyes flickered over and met his own, then Richie was jumping up onto the counter, spreading his arms wide with a lazy grin. 

 

"Ah, and whot a foine, foine eve'nin' it es, lad!" He crowed, watching the light fade from Eddie's eyes and be replaced by disbelief, which quickly morphed into annoyance. Richie pressed on anyway, amusing himself with the Voice he had long-since perfected. "And how is my Eds, eh? Whot a cutie ye are, eh?" He jumped off of the desk, instinctively reaching out to pinch the boy's cheeks just like he used to. The familiarity of the situation was as comforting as it was disturbing— Eddie smacked Richie's hands away, fixing him with a half-hearted glare that quickly melted into a curious look. 

 

"Don't call me that, Richie," the man grumbled, finally tearing his gaze away as he made his way towards Mike. "You're still just as fucking childish, I mean, really? You made shoe-prints on Mike's desk." The brunette brushed at the dust left behind by Richie's shoes, wrinkling his nose and pulling a disinfectant wipe from his pocket, because of-freaking-course Eddie would have those. The old, and worn-down fanny pack settled around Eddie's waist reminded Richie of his quest for Advil, and he snuck up behind the man, jabbing his fingers into his sides and causing him to jump nearly ten feet in the air. 

 

"Is that all I get?" Richie complained, pouting. "A grumpy face? Gee, Spaghetti, I was hoping you'd at least be a little happy to see me." His arms were once again forcefully shoved away from Eddie's body, and he noticed this time that his pale cheeks were flushed slightly as he leaned against the counter. 

 

"I am happy to see you," Eddie assured him, smiling grimly. "That doesn't mean I'm happy to be here, though, does it?" The idea of what he was suggesting sent a shiver down Richie's spine. He sighed heavily, smile fading as he turned his face away and fiddled with his room key. 

 

"I don't think any of us will be," Richie confessed. "No offense, Mikey, but your choice in residence wasn't exactly the best." Their taller friend just shrugged, a hint of a smile on his face as he watched their interaction quietly. Eddie seemed to be more interested in speaking with the other boy, so Richie took this opportunity to study his childhood best friend and, admittedly, his childhood crush. 

 

Eddie had always been a bit different. Richie's weak attempts at flirting had always been dismissed at jokes, and he couldn't for the life of him remember if he had ever acted on his feelings, but they were there, and they had been stronger than anything he'd ever felt for anyone. The man still had his pale complexion, his lightly freckled cheeks and his bright brown eyes, though they were almost more nervous than they used to be, constantly flirting back and forth as if looking for someone who was trying to sneak up on him. He was still scrawny, but he had certainly grown. In fact, he was only a few inches shorter than Richie himself, although it was still enough that his forehead only reached the older man's chin. He dressed the same, casual but spiffy, hair styled as neatly as ever and the familiar fanny pack hanging around his waist. Richie wondered if it was the same one. 

 

"Hey, Eddie, did'ja know that my Voices are actually good now?" Richie bragged, partially just to show off in general, but mostly in an effort to impress Eddie— By showing off. The brunette raised an eyebrow, rather annoyed at being cut off mid-conversation, but he just let his breath out slowly and closed his eyes. 

 

"I've heard you on the radio," the man replied, visibly flustered with his confession as he turned and quickly reengaged in the conversation with Mike. Richie pouted at the lack of attention he was receiving, feeling more and more childish by the second. It was terrifying how easily he was slipping back into his twelve year old though-process, how easy it was to talk first and think second, how the mind he had gotten under control over the years started to race as it had when he was a child. 

 

But at the same time, he was giddy at the thought of Eddie listening to him on the radio. That obviously meant he had been keeping an eye out. He wondered if Eddie had found any of it funny, and considered asking, but bit the question back at the last second. He didn't want to be imprinted in Eddie's now very grown up mind as a man who's constantly interrupting people. 

 

Perhaps even scarier than the returning thought process of his childhood was the returning emotions. The further back he traveled the more warm and fuzzy he felt towards a man he hadn't even thought of in nearly twenty's-seven years. It was weird, and uncomfortable, and just plain messed up for him to be so invested in this guy while he hardly remembered him as it was. 

 

Sure, Richie had no problem admitting that his best friend was attractive. Hell, he was adorable. Both physically and personality-wise. But there was a difference between appreciating someone for their looks and obsessing over them the moment their name entered your mind. Twenty-seven years should have been enough to get over a crush if it was enough to forget something like It, and yet here Richie was, staring helplessly at Eddie, pining after him like a lost puppy. 

 

"Bev and Ben should be arriving at around the same time, and my shift is basically over. I was thinking about inviting everyone to lunch and getting down to business?" Mike suggested, raising his eyebrows. Richie's sappy and wistful daydream came to an abrupt halt, and he blinked a few times, tearing his gaze away from Eddie before he could be caught staring. Dread replaced his nostalgia, and he swallowed thickly, forcing a lazy grin across his face. 

 

"Sure, Mikey. Here, let me get the door for you, Eds. As they always say, 'Ladies first!'" He scurried towards the front doors and held one opened, watching with slight amusement as Eddie shook his head, rolling his eyes and smiling a little bit as he followed a bit more slowly. 

 

"Shut the fuck up, Trashmouth. I'm starving, let's go." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The word home didn't sit well with Richie when it came to Derry. But, that was what it was. That was especially what it was, more and more so each time another Loser joined their ranks. Richie could remember first becoming a part of the alleged Losers' Club, the relief of letting the pressure to be popular leave his shoulders more than he could have ever hoped for. He really had found Eddie cute the first time they met, but it wasn't until much later that he realized the thought shouldn't have stuck with him as long as it did. He still couldn't remember if he had ever said anything about it, which was bothersome. Every time he looked at his friend, who was now an adult just as he was, he felt like he was missing something. The space between them as they walked to the restaurant where they were meeting the others felt unusually large. 

 

The worst part was that he couldn't tell if Eddie felt the same. For being so curious about Richie's whereabout and listening to him on the radio, Eddie sure wasn't showing much interest in him now that he was there. If anything, it almost felt like he was avoiding him. He had hardly looked his way since he first arrived. It was off-putting, but Richie tried not to let it discourage him. After all, even if Eddie wanted nothing to do with him, Richie would flirt shamelessly anyway. It wouldn't be odd, not coming from him. 

 

But of course it would be, how couldn't it be? He was an adult now, he wasn't a cocky twelve year old who could get away with hitting on anyone and everyone. He was supposed to be more mature than that. In fact, he was more mature than that, but ever since he stepped foot into this godforsaken town, that had all changed. It was like a switch had been flipped, and he was the same Richie Tozier that had walked these streets nearly twenty-seven years ago. He wasn't sure what the others were expecting from him, but it was sure as Hell harder than ever to keep his mouth shut when it needed to be. His witty remarks and mom jokes were starting to nag at the back of his mind, and one of them was going to wriggle free before he even realized what was happening. 

 

"Say, Eds..." He three a casual arm around the man's shoulders, biting back a smile in an effort to keep a serious expression. The brunette was already on edge, tensing up at the contact between the two of them as they walked. Richie continued boldly, this time unable to keep the smirk off of his face. "What have you got there? What's in the infamous fanny pack?" He tugged at the strap playfully, not even flinching as Eddie smacked his hand away and shrugged his arm off. 

 

"What do you think, Smartass? And don't call me Eds." The brunette sassed, unzipping it. A few things nearly tumbled out, that was how full it was. Numerous boxes and pill bottles were almost overflowing. Richie finally allowed the laugh that had been building up to burst from his very stomach, clapping a hand over his mouth. Eddie glared at him unappreciatively, but he paid no mind, grinning like an idiot. 

 

"Ahh, Spaghetti. Some things never change," Richie told him, wiping a fake tear from his eye. Eddie gave him a once-over that sent a shiver down his spine, and he suddenly no longer felt like laughing. His smile faded as he examined the uneasy look on his childhood crush's face, and worry began to knot in his stomach once more. 

 

Before Eddie could reply, Mike's voice piped up from a few steps behind them. "Some things do, though. They put in this mall just a few years ago. They've got a nice place for Chinese food, it's where we're meeting the others." The three men looked up ahead as they crossed the street, approaching the large building slowly. It definitely looked new. It almost felt intimidating, and it certainly felt wrong. It wasn't supposed to be there. 

 

"It's big," Eddie commented, but something in his tone of voice told Richie that he felt similarly. 

 

"Yeah, almost as big as my di—"

 

"Beep-beep, Richie." Shock settled into said man's system, and he fell silent. Eddie almost seemed surprised at his own words, eyes widening a bit. Richie nearly forgot to turn into the mall, scrambling to follow his friends when they did so. 

 

"I forgot about that," Mike commented, falling into step between them. "We used to beep you all the time." 

 

"Yeah, cause he was an idiot, and if we didn't get him to shut up then we would have gotten in so much trouble," Eddie replied, rolling his eyes. Mike laughed, and Richie gasped, offended. 

 

"Excuse me, but Ben got us into more trouble than I ever did when he told us how to build the dam!" They once again went quiet, and even paused this time, glancing at each other with slight unease. Mike looked grim. 

 

"What do you guys remember?" He asked slowly, pulling them aside to a quiet corner. People bustled by left and right, oblivious to the weight of the conversation happening just feet away from them. Richie swallowed thickly, hesitating to speak for the first time since he got home. 

 

And there it was again, the word he hated to associate with Derry but the one that stuck with him anyways. He made a face, pinching his brow and looking down. Eddie hadn't said anything yet, either, but when he glanced at the man, he just looked too scared to speak. 

 

"I remember us," Richie said finally. "The Losers' Club, and what it felt like to be a member. I remember building the dam with all of you and flooding out the whole Barrens, only to get in trouble with Mr. Nell and have to take it all apart again. I remember feeling things, but I don't remember why I felt them. Fear, huge amounts of fear. Maybe even terror at some points. I remember feeling sad, sometimes, and angry. Confused." Richie paused, biting his lip. He lowered his gaze and avoided his friends' gazes. "Depressed." He could feel Eddie staring at him, and Mike was nodding with a grim look. 

 

"Maybe this conversation should wait until everyone is here," he said firmly, and Richie nodded quickly, taking a deep breath and looking elsewhere. "I called ahead for a reservation. It's under Hanlon, so you two can go sit, and I'll send the others in as they arrive." Mike gestured towards the entrance of the restaurant. Richie didn't reply, but Eddie thanked Mike quietly and led the Trashmouth away, watching over him carefully. 

 

They entered the restaurant and Eddie requested a table for Hanlon, to which the Waitress nodded and asked them to follow her. The walk was awkward and silent, especially with the way the waitress— Megan, as her name tag read— was eyeing Richie. Even as Eddie sat down and Richie tried to decide where to sit, she way looking at him like he was her next meal. 

 

Richie, who would normally love such attention, was preoccupied with the decision of where to sit. Across from Eddie, or next to him? Would Eddie even want him to be that close at all? The man himself cleared his throat awkwardly, and Richie realized he had been standing there staring like some kind of idiot. Then Eddie smiled the first smile he had managed since meeting up at the library, scooting over a seat and patting the space next to him. Richie melted, an automatic smile forming on his face in return as he hurried to sit beside his old friend, perhaps even getting a bit closer than he had to. His chair was right against Eddie's, and their shoulders were practically touching, but if Eddie minded then he didn't say anything. 

 

"We'll wait to order anything until everyone is here," Eddie assured Megan, who nodded with another lasting look at Richie, who was too busy trying to control the smile on his face as he stared down at the water glasses already sitting around their table. 

 

"So, Eddie," Richie began, leaning back on the back legs of his chair so the front legs lifted up in the air. He gripped the table tightly to keep himself steady, raising his eyebrows at the brunette. "How's life treating you? Good, I hope. You deserve good. More than good. I mean, you're great, so of course, you deserve... great." It came out in a big rush, and Richie felt his cheeks heat up a little. Usually he was a bit smoother than that. The feeling was familiar, which led to the question of whether or not Eddie had made him feel this way before. Judging by the slightly smug look in the man's eyes, the answer was yes. Whether or not Richie liked that was still up in the air. 

 

"I'm doing okay," Eddie replied, smirking a little bit. "I got away from my mom, so that's a start, isn't it?" The revelation caused pride to swell up in Richie's chest, and he grinned, letting his chair fall forward onto all four legs again so he could sit up straighter. 

 

"Hey, that's awesome!" He praised, earning another dazzling smile that caused his heartbeat to pick up. I made him smile like that. I did that! "Believe me, Eds, as good of a fuck as your mom was, I'm glad you were able to break free. It was seriously not good for your mental health to be around someone like her, and I should know, since we were bed buddies and all." He expected Eddie's smile to fade, but he just laughed, and it got a little wider. Richie's eyes went big, and he watched his friend break out into fits of giggles at his statement, which was so un-Eddie-like that he actually had to take a moment to think about what he had said again. 

 

"Sorry," Eddie managed, attempting to calm himself down. "It's just— I thought that maybe after twenty-seven years you would have at least forgotten the mom jokes. Obviously, I was wrong." He pulled his lower lip between his teeth, laughter dancing in those dark and sparkling brown eyes. Richie just stared at him for a few moments, absolutely star-struck. Eddie let him look for a few seconds before smirking and snapping his fingers. "Didn't your mother ever teach you that it's rude to stare?" 

 

"Sure, but she also taught me the importance of appreciating beauty," Richie snarked back immediately, grinning devilishly as Eddie's face went slack with shock and his cheeks were covered by a deep red blush. 

 

"Shut the fuck up, Richard, or you'll break him!" A new voice called. Richie looked up and around to see the reddest hair in the world framing a pale face hectic with nervous excitement. Beverly Marsh made her way towards them with a huge smile that lit up her whole face. Richie stood up so fast that his chair nearly fell over, meeting her halfway and lifting her up to spin her around once. 

 

"Miz Scawlett!" He cried dramatically. "Miz Scawlett, I misses you!" He put her down but kept her close in a bear-like hug, burying his face into her hair. Her arms were hugging back just as tightly, and within mere seconds Eddie was joining them. Richie made room, tugging the man into his side and savoring the feeling of Eddie's body against his own as they all hugged it out. 

 

"I missed you too!" Bev finally said as she pulled away. Eddie lingered at Richie's side for a few more seconds, so Richie took his chance to pull the man into a proper embrace. Eddie struggled at first but eventually just melted into it, allowing Richie to mess up his hair as he pleased and crumple his polo shirt. 

 

"Miss Marsh!" Richie greeted her for real over Eddie's shoulder, holding him well-past the appropriate friendship hug time-period. "It is a true pleasure to see you again. I only wish the circumstances were as pleasant." 

 

"Let me go so I can say hi!" Eddie grumbled, shoving Richie off and turning around. He smoothed his clothes as best he could and smiled awkwardly at Bev, shrugging his shoulders a bit sheepishly. "Hi, Bevvie. It's been a while, huh?" 

 

"Yeah, it has!" She agreed. "You both look great! God, I can't believe this is really happening." She shook her head sadly and they all took their seats on the same side of the table. Four seats remained. The one at the end was Bill's. It was almost a subconscious agreement at this point. Nobody had to ask. 

 

"You and me, both," Richie remarked. "This is the most insane thing that's ever happened to me. It was insane the first time, but now it's the second time? I mean, who else has to deal with shit like this?" He demanded, taking a sip of water. He sneaked a glance at Eddie, who shivered, closing his eyes. Richie automatically reached for his sweatshirt which was still around his waist, draping it over Eddie's shoulders without asking. The brunette stiffened, but didn't complain. 

 

"I don't remember a lot, but I remember enough that I wish I had never come back here," she stated absently, picking at her placemat. "I remember all of the good, most of the stuff from before everything went to shit. I remember being with you guys when we would hang out at the quarry, or in the Barrens. I remember the clubhouse, the one we build underground in the forest where nobody would find it. Remember that?" She grinned, and Richie realized that he did remember that. 

 

"Oh god, the Smoke-Hole," Eddie gasped, going pale. "I thought Richie and Mike were going to die. That was horrible. Do you remember that?" Richie hesitated, frowning. A smoke hole ritual? Almost dying? He was pretty sure he would remember something like that, but then again, he couldn't even remember most about that summer. It was coming back in slow chunks. The mention of the clubhouse and smoke jogged it a bit, but his headache was back, pressing persistently at the back of his brain. 

 

"I don't want to remember," he grumbled, unzipping Eddie's fanny pack and digging through it. "Do you have any Advil in this thing?" Eddie swatted his hands away with a soft scoff, before digging around himself and pulling out the familiar white and blue bottle. 

 

"Of course I have Advil, who do you think I am? Don't take too much," he added hastily. Richie took two tablets and closed the lid, giving it back and taking both at once with a big gulp. He cast a skeptical look in Eddie's direction, brow furrowing. 

 

"Relax, Princess. Even if you could overdose on Advil, it would take like, two hundred tablets, which I'm not about to swallow. I have more important things to do." He looked away, rubbing his eyes and barely stifling a yawn. The one that followed was stronger, and it escaped before he could stop it. "I need to go to bed." 

 

"It's one in the afternoon," Bev snorted, lifting her phone and flashing the clock on her lock screen, which was a picture of her and some guy. Richie pulled out his own phone and looked at his lock screen, a rather boring defaulted photo. He had never taken the time to change it. 

 

"Shut up, Bev, I left LA at eleven last night, and I had an early morning yesterday. I didn't sleep on the plane, so I've been up for over twenty-four hours. Hey, Eddie, wanna be in my lock screen?" He changed the subject quickly, scooting closer to his friend and holding up his phone once he switched it to camera. The brunette smiled a bit shyly, and leaned in to Richie, who slung his arm around his shoulder and tugged him closer, resting their heads together and snapping the photo. "Perfect! Just like you." He winked, then focused on figuring out how to switch his lock screen. 

 

"God, please tell me you guys aren't still dancing around each other like that," Bev rolled her eyes, smirking. Richie made a face at her, putting his phone back in his pocket and sticking his tongue out. 

 

"Shut up, Beverly! We are not dancing around each other. Isn't it obvious? We're already together, duh!" He raised his eyebrows, failing to hold back his laughter when he heard Eddie choke on his water. Tears of laughter filled Richie's eyes as he listened to his friend's hacking cough, and he bit his fist to muffle it a bit. 

 

"Beep-beep!" Eddie hissed just for Richie to hear, face bright red with the strain of coughing mixed with his immense embarrassment. Richie was just grinning, and he was feeling rather proud of himself as well. He glanced towards Bev, and just over her shoulder as a man entered the restaurant. He looked confused, with a messy mop of brown hair on his head. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and a slightly pudgy belly. The build of someone who had lost a lot of weight recently. The man's eyes met his own and widened considerably. 

 

"Richie?" The guy called out, taking a few steps in their direction. "And... Eddie, and Bev? Is that you guys?" 

 

"Haystack!" Richie nearly shouted, getting to his feet. "You... You're a stick! I didn't even recognize you!" Ben blushed and sat across from Bev, who was smiling at him in a way that only caused his cheeks to darken. 

 

"Hi, Ben," Eddie waved awkwardly, smiling a bit. Ben waved back, then glanced at Bev with a shy smile. 

 

"Thanks," the man mumbled bashfully, cheeks still a rosy color. "Mike told me to tell you that we're just waiting for Bill now, but he's almost here, so it shouldn't be long." Silence fell upon the table, and they all counted the chairs that were left three times just to be sure. 

 

"Wait," Eddie piped up, confusion leaking from his voice. "Just Bill? What about Stanley? Where's he? I missed him, when is he gonna get here? I was gonna ask him to go birdwatching some time." The idea that nothing good could have happened started to settle in Richie's head, and he saw it reflected in every single one of the Losers' eyes. An ache that couldn't be dulled by any amount of Advil began to throb in his forehead, and his stomach churned. His mouth felt dry, even after he took a few sips of water. 

 

"I don't know, but Mike looked really messed up when I got here. His eyes were red, and he looked like he was about to cry or something. He was real quiet, quieter than he even used to be, and just told me to tell you guys he'd be there in a few minutes." Ben shrugged, an uneasy look settling in his eyes. 

 

"Oh, I really hope nothing bad has happened," Bev fretted. 

 

"The worst already has happened, though," Eddie pointed out. "It is back. Kids are dying. Anything that happens from this point on is just part of the worst thing that is already in the process of happening, and we are the only ones who can do anything about it." 

 

"Can we even do this, though?" Richie demanded. "We failed when we were kids. We're all old now. We can't move the way we used to. What if we can't do it again?" Nobody looked comfortable with the thought, which was expected, but the fact that none of them could answer him just made Richie's anxiety levels heighten. "Well?" He asked forcefully, eyes getting wide. "What the fuck are we supposed to do then? What if someone gets hurt, or even killed?" 

 

"Don't say that," Bev said sharply, fixing him with a cool glare. "As long as we're all together, nothing like that can happen." 

 

"But we aren't all together!" Richie insisted. "Stan isn't here! The less of us that are here, the less likely we are to win, and we're already one down. What happened to our lucky number?" 

 

"Shut the fuck up, Richie!" Bev hissed. "We don't know that Stan won't be here. Maybe he just can't get here in time for lunch, and that's all. We can just ask Mike when he gets in here with Bill. Just shut up about it, okay?" 

 

"Fine," Richie relented, tilting back in his chair again despite the nervous glances from Eddie. "Fine. But don't blame me if everything goes to shit because we didn't plan what to do if one of us didn't show up." Bev glared harshly, but he just looked away pointedly, tilting back so far that even he thought he was going to fall for a second. Eddie's hands flew out and grabbed his chair, forcing it back down just as the chair at the end of the table was pulled out, legs scraping loudly against the floor. Everyone froze, eyes locked on Bill, who looked even more nervous than all of them combined. Then, through all of the tension, Richie exploded. 

 

"Oh my, look at this-- Bill Denbrough went for the chrome dome look. How long you been Turtle Waxing your head, Big Bill?" He had hardly finished his sentence before Bill's mouth fell opened, obviously on autopilot due to the surprised look that crossed even his own face at what came out of it next. 

 

"Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Trashmouth." He lifted his hands to his hair, almost subconsciously, as if making sure it was still there-- And it was, which was the funny part. There were a few moments of pure silence in which everyone stared at each other. Then Eddie was looking at Richie, and the tiniest of smiles crossed his face. 

 

It was like a domino effect. Warmth and happiness at the sight of Eddie's smile that Richie had caused had him giggling, and then the entire group burst into laughter. Mike gestured a waitress over, and they all finally settled into their seats. Richie attempting to tilt back once again, much to Eddie's displeasure. He reached to push the seat down again to which Richie rather slyly caught his hand with a smirk, wiggling his eyebrows. Eddie pulled away with a scoff, but his cheeks were pink, and that was enough for Richie to be satisfied, especially after the little jolt in his heart when his skin pressed against his friend's. 

 

Richie let his chair fall forward when it was his turn to order, allowing the front two legs to slam loudly down onto the floor, inwardly laughing at the eye roll from the brunette beside him. He listened to Beverly's crap story about her 'amazing' husband, but kept his opinions to himself, the main one being that nobody deserved a girl like her, so there was no way her husband could be as great as she said he was. Beverly Rogan. The name left a sour taste in his mouth. 

 

"You'll always be Marsh to me," he told her very seriously, but his smile gave him away. She gave him a chilly look of mock-warning, biting her lip to conceal her grin, but Richie didn't even bother trying to hide his. "Doan whup me, Miss Scawlett! Doan whup me!" He practically shouted, throwing his chair back again. It wobbled dangerously, and he clutched onto the table, going pale as the sensation of falling hit him very suddenly. He caught himself just in time, face somehow pale and very red at the same time as he caught Eddie giving him a 'told-you-so' look out of the corner of his eye. He didn't tilt his chair again after that. 

 

Small talk was made about professions, to which Richie bragged extensively about his job on the radio. 

 

"I'll have you all know, that I am known as the Man of a Thousand Voices," he stated proudly. Bill groaned loudly, and Richie put a hand on his chest, pretending to be offended. He was aware that the quality of his Voices had been rather bad back in the day, but he thought it was only fair that Bill give him credit for making it big nowadays. 

 

"God, Richie, your Voices were always so terrible!" 

 

"Flattery will get you nowhere, mawster," Richie snapped, sticking his nose up and crossing his arms. "If you doubt me, go ahead and look me up. I've done a few interviews, I'm sure you'll find one on YouTube somewhere, or just look up the station I perform for." 

 

"He really is good at them now," Eddie's soft voice piped up, and Richie sat up a bit straighter, the compliment going straight to his heart and causing it to flutter a bit. He could feel his cheeks darkening a little as he positively beamed at Eddie, who just shrugged. "It's true," he insisted, smiling a little, and melting Richie's heart further. 

 

Conversation bustled on, but Richie was totally preoccupied. He definitely wasn't staring at Eddie. He was just admiring his face, familiarizing himself with the man who he hadn't seen in years. It was totally normal, after all. It wasn't like he would never see him again after this was over. 

 

The realization that he probably wouldn't see Eddie again rushed over him, and Richie nearly fell out of his chair, eyes growing wide. Eddie lived in New York, he had said. He ran a business in New York, something he couldn't just walk away from. Richie had commitments in LA, all the way across the country. It wasn't exactly the type of distance where he could just pop over on Saturday to go out for lunch and catch up or something. Granted, there were iPhones, FaceTime and other ways to communicate. But that wasn't enough, was it? The feeling of actually being there with Eddie, their arms nearly brushing due to the proximity of their chairs to one another, much closer than they probably should have been, it was all intoxicating. It wasn't something Richie wanted to let go of. But was Richie willing to throw everything away for that feeling? Would Eddie even want him to do that? 

 

Eddie was like a drug. Richie should know. Showbiz was unhealthy for anyone and everyone, himself included. Many holes were dug just for people to fall into when they didn't watch their steps, and Richie had fallen down so many deep ones that he was surprised he was even where he was at the moment. People had pulled him out of places he never wanted to see again, and yet he still felt the familiar weight of a cigarette box in his pocket. 

 

"Richie, do you wear contacts now?" Beverly Marsh's voice shook Richie out of his daze. He looked up at her, confused for a moment. He was sure he had felt the weight of his glasses on his nose just a moment ago, but when he lifted a hand to his face, they weren't there. His fingertips brushed the bridge of his nose and came back empty. 

 

"Come a little closer, bay-bee," he replied lowly, joking his way out of his moment in the darkness of the past. "Look into my eyes." She giggled and did so, leaning closer and peering into his eyes. Their faces were very close. He could feel her breath on his cheeks as he tilted his head to let the light bounce off of his contacts, which coaxed a delighted exclamation from the redhead. 

 

Richie's thoughts drifted elsewhere once again until the drinks came. Silence had fallen upon the group once again. Everyone exchanged uneasy glances, but the only gaze Richie held was Eddie's. He tried to smile reassuringly, but nothing happened. He just looked away, focusing his gaze on the glass of liquid before him, light bouncing off of it and into his eyes. 

 

"Well?" Beverly broke the silence, raising her eyebrows. "What do we drink to?"

 

"To us," Richie replied automatically, and for the first time that day he didn't try to hide the dark forcefulness in his voice. He met Bill's gaze, and slowly stood up. One by one, the others followed his lead. First Bill, then Ben and Eddie, then Bev, and finally Mike Hanlon, who had called them all together for a reason; One reason, the reason that could also quite possibly be the reason Stanley Uris was not there with them. 

 

"To us," Richie repeated, aware of the tremble in his voice just like he was aware of the returning feeling of glasses on his face that weren't really there. "To the Losers' Club of 1988." 

 

"To the Losers," Bev agreed, amusement alight in her eyes, but Richie didn't feel like laughing-- He felt like puking. 

 

"The Losers," Eddie said quietly, so quiet, always so quiet. Why was he so quiet? His voice was soft, smooth. Intoxicating, just like his presence, and Richie was high on it. He wanted him to speak up, talk more, say more. 

 

"The Losers," Ben said, smiling a little bit. 

 

"The Losers," Mike Hanlon said, glancing at Bill, who pressed his lips together firmly. 

 

"The Losers," the man finished, and it was somehow finalizing. 

 

Their glasses touched. 

 

They drank. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

An evening of flambé at Richie's table, amongst other things, had him settling back into his adolescent years like nothing else before it. The smart remarks, the snide comments, and the flirting all seemed to be coming back smoothly and naturally. 

 

Especially towards Eddie. 

 

The scrawny brunette had to be Richie's favorite part of everything that was happening. The dirty looks and nasty glares that he received every time a suggestive comment even began to fall from his lips had him on cloud 9, reliving the glory days, remembering just how good it felt when Eddie payed even the slightest bit of mind to him— Negative or positive, it didn't matter. Richie was a whore for attention, and when anyone gave it to him, particularly Eddie, it just got him all worked up. 

 

However, the attention on him was shifting, understandably. The flambé at his table was no longer present, and even Richie was starting to worry about the one remaining loser who had not graced them with his presence thus far. 

 

Stanley Uris, Stan the Man, Bird-Fucker, their favorite Jew, Stanley, and probably Eddie's best friend besides Richie if the Trashmouth could remember correctly. He had yet to show up to their happy little reunion. Of course, he was going to show up eventually, wasn't he? Richie had been close with Stan as well. It was the little things about his friends that were coming back first, while the more serious business that had to do with exactly what they were all doing there that chose to stay hazy in his mind. 

 

"Mike," Eddie piped up suddenly, and the whole table went silent. Richie felt that dread, the same kind of dread he had felt all those years ago down in the Barrens before Bill had told them all about what he had seen in his room that week. Someone was about to start talking, and once they did, the shit would hit the fan. All of the fun and games, all of Richie's flambé-ing would be over. The reunion would turn into something much more serious, something much more deadly. He wasn't ready to let go of the lighthearted atmosphere in which it was acceptable for him to joke around about everything, in which it was acceptable for him to act the age he had been last time they saw each other— 

 

In which it was acceptable for him to shamelessly flirt with Eddie and not gain the disapproval of the whole table, including Eddie himself. 

 

"Yes, Eddie?" The librarian asked, jolting Richie from his thoughts. He looked up to see Eddie staring at Mike with a pale face, lips pressed together in a thin line. 

 

No, stop, Richie wanted to tell him. Don't say what you were about to say. Let the fun go on a bit longer. 

 

"Mike," Eddie said again, visibly beginning to lose his composure. He was beginning to sweat, eyes darting back and forth around the table. He swallowed hard, and said, "When did Stanley Uris die?" Chaos broke out around the table, but it wasn't loud. It was a war of emotion, the expressions on people's faces changing rapidly. 

 

Bill Denbrough closed his eyes, becoming a pale grey color. Ben Hanscom looked shocked out of his system. Beverly Marsh's expression seemed to crumble into unbearable sadness, and then soon became rather dull, almost as quickly as it had first changed. Eddie just looked like he couldn't believe what he had just said, and his emotions remained similar to the ones Beverly had felt before becoming closed-off. 

 

"The night before last," Mike replied shortly. "Just after I made the calls." Eddie hesitated, pinching the bridge of his nose for a brief moment. 

 

"Did it, um.. Did it have to do with why we're here?" He finally managed, looking up with pleading eyes. Richie wanted to take his hand and tell him that it would be okay. He wanted to hug him, even though he knew the man would tell him to stop, but at least it would be something easily comprehensible— Richie Tozier doesn't listen to him. But instead he gets to deal with the death of one of his closest friends. 

 

As Mike confirmed Eddie's statement, Richie's hand twitched closer and closer to his friend. It was difficult, especially considering the fact that they were seated in separate chairs, but Richie eventually settled for just brushing Eddie's arm softly with his fingertips. Eddie jumped, but looked over at Richie, and their eyes met. 

 

Richie opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He looked down at the hand that was still reaching out, and pulled it away almost subconsciously. Eddie watched him, eyebrows raised, lips curving downwards into a frown. Richie ran a hand through his hair, sighing heavily. He waved him away, fully aware of how stupid it was that he would even try to comfort someone when he was clearly bad at emotional situations. Hell, the only thing that had ever been enough to make him cry himself dry was when he had Bill had been— 

 

What had happened to them? He couldn't remember. He knew they had held each other, crying on the side of the road. That was the hardest Richie had ever cried in his life. He was sure of that much. He had also never told anyone about that, and Bill hadn't, either. It was some kind of a mutual agreement. But Richie couldn't remember what had made him cry like that. 

 

"Tell us everything!" He blurted out. All eyes were on him. He cleared his throat awkwardly, tracing the scar on his palm without really thinking about it and tapping his foot on the ground subconsciously. "Tell us what's been happening in Derry," he told Mike a bit more directly, though he averted his eyes. He wasn't sure he really wanted to know. 

 

"I can tell you some," Mike clarified, looking around the table with a new intensity that had everyone leaning forward in their seats, as if they felt the need to whisper. But Mike spoke very clearly, no whispers intended. "For example, I can tell you what's happening now... And I can tell you a little bit about yourselves." That spiked everyone's interests. Richie took a deep breath, closing his eyes as Mike continued. "But I have to let you remember some things on your own. If I tell you more than you're ready to remember before you're ready to remember it, I'm afraid that what happened to Stan might happen to you." Nobody argued with that. They all knew what Mike said was true. Richie desperately wanted to know what was missing, why there were such big chunks missing from his mind. 

 

"Alright, Mike," Bill finally said. "Tell us what you can." 

 

"Okay, but you won't like it." Richie laughed sharply at that. 

 

"I'd be concerned if anyone did!" He replied. A few people smiled a bit, but it was grim. It was time to get down to business, they all knew it. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

"The murders have started again," Mike began flatly. His gaze swept the table, but Richie looked away before he could meet his eyes. "The first of them started on the Main Street Bridge and finished underneath it. The victim was a gay and rather childlike man named Adrian Mellon. He had a bad case of asthma." Richie stiffened at Eddie's breath hitched in his ear. He stole a glance and saw his friend clutching his aspirator tightly with a rather pale look to his face. 

 

Richie considered reaching out as he had done earlier, and his hand even began to move, but then he remembered the way Eddie had looked at him and decidedly curled his hands into fists at his sides. This wasn't the time. 

 

"It was him," Ben spoke quietly, but with a sudden force. "It was that fucker Pennywise." The name sent a shiver down Richie's spine. He clutched the edges of his seat and considered excusing himself to use the restroom as a wave of nausea passed over him, but he didn't. He simply reached up and took a sip of his water, listening to the discussion as it progressed. Details about how the media couldn't seem to make the connection between Derry and it's tradition in which children die every twenty-seven years. 

 

"Nine children dead this year," he mumbled to himself, then looked up to see Mike watching him with a grim expression. "Christ," he sighed, shaking his head. 

 

"Lisa Albrecht and Steven Johnson in late 2014," Mike said, pulling a photograph out of his pocket and looking at it through lidded eyes. "A boy named Dennis Torrio disappeared back in February of that year. He was high-school aged. They found his body in mid-March down in the Barrens, all mutilated and such. This was nearby." He passed the photograph around the table, starting with Bev, who just furrowed her brow, confused. Eddie made a similar expression, and dread began to build up in Richie's chest as it reached him. He took on look at it, and his heart nearly stopped. 

 

"Jesus! Jesus, Mike!" He cried, dropping the little piece of paper as if it had seared his hand. He stared at it for a minute where it lay on the table, fighting back the unwanted tears that were building in his eyes, then shoved it towards Bill and away from himself. The table was silent for a few moments, and Richie groaned unwillingly, burying his face in his hands. 

 

Someone touched his shoulder and he leaned into them subconsciously. A delicate hand slid across his back and he was pulled awkwardly against a small body as he shivered lightly. Where his mind would normally be racing alongside his heart, Richie was more focused on not throwing up all over his dear Eddie. 

 

"It's my brother's school picture," Bill spoke up at last, voice shaking slightly. "It's Juh-Georgie. The picture from his album. The one that moved. The one that winked." Richie pulled away from Eddie as the picture got passed around again and passed it off without even looking at it. 

 

"I haven't seen that picture since 1988," Bill continued, voice growing a bit more unsteady. "That spring. The year after Georgie died. When I tried to show it to Richie, it was g-gone." 

 

Mike continued on and on, the names and deaths of every child imprinting themselves into Richie's mind. He curled further and further in on himself as the dinner progressed, growing quieter and quieter still. Finally, Mike pulled out one last picture. 

 

"I'd held off and held off. But when I saw this last one, I made the calls." He pinched his brow, voice growing hoarse from all of the talking. "I wish to God I had made them sooner." 

 

"Well, let's see," Ben said abruptly. 

 

Let's not, Richie though selfishly, immediately reprimanding himself. 

 

"The victim was another fifth grader," Mike supplied, sounding tired beyond relief, and Richie was right there with him. "A classmate of the Feury boy." Another victim. "He was found just off Kansas Street, near where Bill used to ride his bike when we were in the Barrens. His name was Jerry Bellwood. He was torn apart." Richie nearly choked. It wasn't the worst thing he had heard that night, but he was reaching his limit. 

 

"What..." Mike wavered for a moment, staring blankly at the picture, then cleared his throat. "What was left of him was found at the foot of a cement wall that was installed along Kansas Street about twenty years ago to stop the soil erosion in the area. This picture.. Of the wall... It was taken less than a half an hour after the body was removed." He began to pass the picture. Beverly looked, and winced, quickly passing it along. Richie looked, and took a deep breath, passing it just as quickly. Eddie stared at it long and hard, emotions Richie did not recognize swimming in his eyes. He passed it to Ben, who gave it to Bill with hardly a glance. 

 

Printing straggled it's way across the concrete retaining wall. It said:

 

 

COME HOME COME HOME COME HOME

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Things started to settle down for a little while. There was a bit more playfulness, at least— 

 

"Oh, it's not me," Beverly laughed, shaking her head. "I could never start a business on my own. If it weren't for Tom, I'd still be stuck sewing up hems and relining skirts. It just... you know. Tom. And luck." 

 

"Me thinks the lady doth protest too much," Richie snarked, smirking. Beverly fixated on him with a harsh glare, color high. 

 

"Just what's that supposed to mean, Richie Tozier?" 

 

"Doan hits me, Miz Scawlett!" Richie cried in his Pickaninny Voice. "Doan hits me! Lemme bring you anothuh mint joolip, Miz Scawlett! Youse Goan drink hit out on de po'ch where it's be a little bit cooluh! Doan whup disyere boy!" 

 

But it didn't end as playful as it began. 

 

"You're impossible, Richie," Beverly said coldly. Her tone had Richie freezing up, and his smile faded. "You ought to grow up." 

 

The words his Richie like a pound of bricks, and he stiffened, eyes widening by a small fraction. Grow up, huh? Hadn't that been exactly what he had been thinking earlier? He wasn't the only one who noticed that he was acting like his childish self. 

 

Grin fading into uncertainty, Richie looked up at her and said, "Until I came back here, I thought I had." 

 

When the talk about money that had begun Richie and Beverly's little spat subsided, a new horror leaked into Richie's conscience. 

 

"The way class leave scars," Mike had been saying, and then it hit Richie, and he could hardly breathe as the beginnings of a memory began to seep back into his mind, flooding it to the point where he was drowning in it. 

 

"The werewolf!" He almost moaned, slumping forward and clutching his head in his hands. "Oh Christ, Big Bill, the werewolf! When we went back to Neibolt Street! Don't you remember?" 

 

"No," Bill replied, but he looked uncertain. "Do you?" Richie hesitated, unwilling to reach back that far. 

 

"I..." He trailed off, suddenly unsure of himself. "I almost do..." And he subsided. 

 

The conversation progressed. Nobody wanted to cross each other after the outburst between Richie and Bev. 'Beep-beep' made a few infamous appearances and Richie wasn't sure it he was glad or disappointed in the fact that it still had the same silencing effect on him that it had possessed back in the 80's. 

 

This entire day had been absolutely crazy. Hell, looking back on it, Richie had to say that his entire fucking life had been pretty crazy from the moment he had laid eyes on Big Bill and his pal, the asthmatic and fairy-like Edward Kaspbrak. There were a few things he would change if he could— He'd make sure nobody got traumatized by a fucking alien-clown-werewolf hybrid that snacked on small children. But other than that, before the disaster, everything had been pretty good. He could remember that much. Henry Bowers had always been an asshole, but hey, every town had bullies, and he just so happened to be the worst of them all. 

 

Richie spared a glance at Eddie, who was looking at whoever was talking— Probably Mike or Bill— with a calm expression. He seemed at ease for the first time since Richie had seen him again. Beautiful brown eyes spared Richie a glance, then stuck there, watching him curiously, and Richie knew he was staring but he couldn't help it. This was the first time he had gotten a good look at his friend and childhood-crush in twenty-seven years, he figure she was allowed to stare a little bit. After all, it made Eddie squirm, and if that wasn't worth it, nothing was. 

 

"I think we need to bring this to a vote." Mike's voice shattered Richie's concentration and he tore his gaze away from Eddie, casting a slightly annoyed glance at the man who had interrupted. But his expression softened when he saw the anxious determination in his other friend's eyes. "Stay and try it again, or go home. Those are the choices. I got you here on the strength of an old promise that I wasn't even sure you'd remember, but I can't hold you here on the strength of that bond alone." 

 

"All right," Bill began, looking around the table very seriously. "I g-guess the question is, do we stay and fight, or do we forget the whole thing? Those in favor of staying?" Silence met his words, and nobody moved. Thoughts swirled through Richie's brain, and he bit his lip, looking down. What did staying mean? What did leaving mean? He had to weigh out his options. 

 

Leaving meant he went home. Returned to his job and continued making people laugh on the radio for years to come. It meant finding girls, and maybe if he wasn't feeling too insecure, a few guys during his lifetime. He didn't think he was the type to settle down, but who knows? 

 

Leaving meant loneliness. Sure, he could find a few hookups, maybe even a girlfriend, but nothing ever lasted. He had some friends, but Richie had stuck to himself ever since he left Derry. He had his fans. He had never thought he'd need anyone else. 

 

Staying meant something totally different. Staying meant pain and suffering and childhood fears brought back to life before his very eyes. Staying meant watching people he loved get hurt, and watching children get hurt, and hurting himself. It meant past feelings being rekindled and possibly rejected. It meant his childhood depression, which he could already feel creeping up in his heart alongside old insecurities and anxieties. 

 

Staying meant doing everything together. Staying meant friendship, loyalty and devotion. Staying meant being a family and ending this once and for all. Staying meant home. Home meant Eddie, and Richie wasn't afraid to admit that to himself. Staying meant he had another chance, as slim as it was. 

 

Bill's hand was the first to go up. "Let's kill It," he said. "This time, let's really kill It." 

 

Richie sighed, and followed suit. This was The Losers' Club they were talking about. He couldn't let it disband again. "What the hell," he shrugged, cracking a grin. 

 

Slowly, one by one, each Loser raised their hands until the only one left was Eddie. He looked like he wanted to disappear. Richie's heart cracked a little bit, and finally, he reached out and brushed his own hand against the other man's. The brunette stiffened, looking over at him with shocked eyes as his friend grabbed his hand fully, offering an encouraging smile. Finally, he raised his other hand into the air. 

 

"Way to go, Eds," Richie said. "We're really gonna have ourselves some chucks this time, I bet." 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," Eddie said in a wavering voice. But his grip on Richie's hand tightened, and that was all anyone had to say about that. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο 

 

"Alone?" 

 

Richie turned his head to see Eddie glaring at Mike. Their friend nodded solemnly, and Richie felt himself begin to blanch. 

 

"Why alone?" Bev asked much more calmly, but the fear in her eyes was evident. "If we're supposed to do this as a group, then why do you want us to split up after lunch? Especially if the risk is as high as you think it might be?" 

 

"Because it started alone for all of us," Bill piped up, scowling. "I don't remember everything— not yet— but I sure remember that much. The picture in George's room that moved. Ben's mummy. The leper that Eddie saw under the porch on Neibolt Street." Eddie made a choked noise, and Richie looked over to see his face become stark white. "Mike finding the blood on the grass near the Canal in Bassey Park," Bill continued anyway, and Richie returned his attention to the man at the head of the table, frowning. "And the bird," Bill finished, lips curving downwards. "There was something about a bird, wasn't there, Mike?" 

 

"A big bird," Mike agreed, nodding grimly. 

 

"Yes," Bill replied, and suddenly the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. "But not as friendly as the one on Sesame Street." Richie snorted, his own laughter taking him by surprise. 

 

"Derry's answer to James Brown Gets Off A Good One!" He cried, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye. "Oh chillun, is we blessed or is we blessed!" 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," Mike said seriously, and the man settled down, smile fading. He reached to push his glasses up his nose only to once again find that they were not there. 

 

"For you it was the voice that came out of the pipe and the blood from the drain," Bill said to Beverly, and then his wide, haunted eyes settled on Richie and he faltered, brows knitting together in confusion. 

 

"I must be the exception that proves the rule, Big Bill," Richie shrugged, and he felt all eyes on him. Something stirred in the back of his mind and he shoved it away, the sick feeling beginning to return as he struggled to keep his playful side front and center. "The first time I came in contact with anything that summer that was weird— I mean really big-league weird— was in George's room, with you. When you and I went back to your house that day and looked at his photo album. The picture of Center Street by the Canal started to move. Do you remember?" He felt like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else, because something was starting to resurface— The glint of painted concrete as the sun bounced off of the silver of an axe that was bigger than Richie's entire eleven-year-old body. He shook his head, closing his eyes. 

 

"Yes," Bill said. "But are you sure there wasn't anything before that, Richie? Nothing at all?" 

 

"I—" Richie started to say, and trailed off, and that was when he knew he was going to say it. "The day that Henry Bowers and his friends chased me through town. Before the end of school, this was, and I got away from them in the department of Freese's. After I got away, I went into City Center and sat down at a bench, and I thought I saw..." He hesitated, nausea causing his vision to swim as the memories pulsated in his head, pressing to be released. "But that was just something I dreamed.." He sighed, shaking his head again and pinching his brow. "A dream. Really. I don't mind taking a walk, though," he said, redirecting his attention to Mike. "It'll kill the afternoon. Views of the old homestead." 

 

Everyone murmured in agreement, and Mike looked satisfied, smiling a little bit. "Seven o'clock, then. Meet at the library. If you're late, knock." 

 

"A-Alright," Bill agreed. "And be careful. Remember that none of us really knows what we're d-d-doing. Think of this as reconnaissance. If you should see something, don't fight. Run." His eyes flashed dangerously, but Richie couldn't help himself. 

 

"I'm a lover, not a fighter," he said in a dreamy Michael Jackson voice, looking over at Eddie with a faraway look in his eyes. The man's cheeks turned pink, and he looked pointedly away, scowling deeply. Richie chuckled, sitting up a bit straighter and tilting his chair back just to make his friend reach out and push it down again. 

 

"Well, we'd better get going then," Ben chimed in. 

 

"Wait!" Bev cried out. "Don't forget about the fortune cookies." 

 

"Yeah!" Richie added, grinning mischievously as everyone tensed, waiting for his joke. "I can see mine now. YOU WILL SOON BE EATEN BY A LARGE MONSTER. HAVE A NICE DAY!" The Losers laughed, and passed the cookies around until everyone had one. Richie looked down at his own and suddenly felt a strong sense of dread, as if something bad was about to happen. Bev cracked her cookie opened first, and everyone followed suit, then everything began to happen at once. 

 

Blood spurted up and out of Beverly's cookie, splattering across the table in front of her. A bug that was ten times too big to exist in this part of the world came crawling out of Eddie's, who threw himself sideways against Richie with a strangled cry muffled by his own fist. Richie finally risked a glance at his own cookie, before throwing an arm around Eddie and starting to pull him away from the table. 

 

"Oh God!" He managed in a choked voice, eyes bulging rather ironically. "Oh God Big Bill it's an eye dear God it's an eye a fucking eye—" 

 

Richie just barely ducked under Ben's arm as he threw his own cookie and something unpleasant rattled inside. Richie tightened his grip around Eddie and heaved him to his feet, guiding him away and sticking close even as he let go of him reluctantly. His fingertips lingered at Eddie's hips, which he was sure the brunet had noticed. If he had, he didn't say anything. He stayed exactly where he was, wheezing and gripping his shirt tightly in his hands. 

 

Hands moving on autopilot, Richie gripped the man's aspirator tightly, having snatched it from his pocket. He turned Eddie around and gripped his chin firmly, pressing the contraption to the man's lips. Eddie opened his mouth obediently, and puffed when Richie triggered the inhaler, before taking it and shoving it back in his fanny pack. 

 

"Thanks," he mumbled, cheeks becoming red as he turned back around. Richie tried to relax as he watched Bill with his hand covering Bev's mouth and realized that they had started to make quite a scene. 

 

"Dummy up, all of you!" Bill hissed. "Not one sound. Sit down at the table and act natural!" 

 

"I can't, Billy! I can't get near that thing!" Eddie moaned, pointed at the bug, but Richie just grabbed the hand that was pointing and eased him back towards the table. 

 

"I'll switch places with you," he murmured into the brunette's ear, brushing by him and taking the seat before the bug. It was still on it's back, and it seemed to be dying, but that didn't make it any more pleasant. Eddie sat in Richie's seat, pushing his cookie away and scooting closer to Ben, who's cookie was on the other side of the table. 

 

"Everything alright?" The waitress, Rose, asked, walking up to their table. Everyone ogled at her for a moment, and Richie had to remind himself that nobody else could see anything of what had just happened. Eddie triggered his aspirator again, and Richie inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as Mike conversed with Rose, telling her that they would be leaving very soon. 

 

Richie looked at Bill's plate and watched in stricken horror as a huge fly started to crack out of his cookie, despite it not having been opened before. Yellow goo chased it out, and the stench that followed, nearly caused him to gag, but he just turned his head away, not even looking back when a cold hand brushed his arm. 

 

"Well, if I can't help you right now, then.." 

 

"Not at all," Ben said. "A wonderful meal. Most... Most unusual." 

 

"I'll leave you then." Her heels clicked against the floor as she retreated, and Richie got up as soon as she was out of sight, faintly aware of the other person following him with a loose grip on his wrist. 

 

"Excuse me, I think I have to vomit," Bev said distantly, before hurrying away. 

 

Me, too, Richie thought, but he didn't say anything, instead choosing to stand and stare at his feet. Eddie had finally let go of his arm, but stood with him, far away from the table. 

 

"Jesus," the brunet said faintly. 

 

"Let's get the righteous fuck out of here," Mike mumbled. "We can meet Bev in the lobby." 

 

They all herded themselves out of the stuffy room and towards the cash register, where Mike payed the bill just as Bev left the restroom. The conversation was hushed and uncomfortable as they exited the building, and Richie was hardly paying attention. Eddie wasn't standing too close, but he also didn't drift very far, much to Richie's relief. It was almost natural to be this close to him, to stand at a comfortable distance like this at all times. 

 

The Losers' Club of 1988 stood looking at each other in the fine spring rain. 

 

Ben and Richie took a cab. 

 

Eddie and Bev waited for the bus. 

 

Mike drove. 

 

Bill decided to walk. 

 

After all, if you were going to run, you had to get a walking start.

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Richie's earliest clear memory was actually quite blurry, which was kind of ironic. It wasn't blurry in the sense that he couldn't quite remember— This memory was before he had gotten glasses. His vision had, quite literally, been blurry. 

 

His mother had figured out he needed glasses at a young age, thank God. But it had taken a long time for them to be affordable. His father hadn't always had such a well-paying job. Richie was always vaguely aware that he had been somewhat of an accident. It wasn't news to him when he listened in on his parents talking about it back when he was fifteen and, quite frankly, already angsty enough. 

 

The memory, though. He had been seven, waiting to get his glasses for the first time, actually, which was exciting when it was happening, and got much less exciting once he had actually received the lenses. But his mother was getting ready to take him to the Optometrist— A word he had been very proud to know when he was that age— when he went outside to wait for her in the car. 

 

Richie had friends when he was seven. He had a kindergarten class full of people to talk to. His mom always told him that just because they didn't invite him over to play, didn't mean they didn't like him, so Richie went through life for a long time assuming that everyone liked him. Later on, he would learn that this was not the case, but for the time being, he was a rather confident little seven-year-old. 

 

Waiting out on the steps for his mother to get her shit together, a phrase Richie had learned at school from the older kids and now used flippantly, despite his parents' best efforts, Richie was confronted with a situation he had never been exposed to before. 

 

There were a few distant shouts down his street, and as they got closer, they got louder. They sounded like boys, Richie noticed. Boys his age. Familiar voices, too, although he wasn't sure why, because he knew the voices of everyone in his Church group, and these voices didn't belong to anyone there. 

 

"Bill, slow down!" A shrill voice shrieked, and a blur of color shot by Richie's front yard before he could even begin to focus on figuring out what it was. Another blur was positioned at the top of Richie's street, just barely visible through the hazy trees blocking Richie's view. 

 

Richie wasn't stupid. He could figure out what was going on. These kids were on bikes, whether he could see them or not, and one of them was going much faster than he wanted to. Richie's Street was on a downward slope, which meant it was harder to stop— Richie knew, he had practiced before his vision got as bad as it was. 

 

"Boys, be careful!" A woman's voice called. Richie stood up, walking out onto his grass with careful steps so he wouldn't fall. The first blur was already at the bottom of the hill, waving his arms up and down. At least, Richie thought that might be what he was doing. He couldn't really tell at the time. Then he looked back up at the second, and much smaller blur, who was starting to move just as the third, and largest blur appeared over the top of the hill. 

 

Richie held his breath as the smallest blur started down the hill, obviously going much faster than he had originally intended. The rattling of his training wheels were like nails on a chalk board, but Richie could tell they weren't going to do much for this poor kid if he kept going as fast as he was going. There was a loud shriek just as Richie approached the end of his driveway, and he glanced down the hill as the first blur shouted something suddenly, catching both the second blur and Richie's attention. 

 

"W-Wuh-Wuh-Watch out!" The boy's voice rang out after what felt like an eternity. Then a dull ache spread across Richie's side as he was knocked over onto the pavement and a body landed next to his. He sat up relatively quickly, searching his elbows and knees, but found nothing. He definitely wasn't bleeding, but he would have a nasty bruise later. Then he looked down at the boy beside him. 

 

"Are you okay?" He asked, poking the boy's shoulders. He leaned down real close as the kid lifted himself up. His head rose, and he was so close that Richie could see his eyes clear as day— Huge, beautiful brown orbs complete with soft flecks of darker brown. They way the light reflected off of them made them look almost golden, though. Richie didn't even realize his mouth was opened until he shook his head, tearing his gaze away. 

 

"N-No," the boy sniffled, lifting his knees off the ground, and even though they weren't close enough to see clearly as the boy's eyes, Richie knew the red hue of blood when he saw it. 

 

"Don't worry!" He assured the kid, smiling widely as he got up. "I'll go get my mom, we have band-aids!" He could feel those eyes on his back as he hurried back into his house, shouting for his mother. She carried him back outside with a wet cloth and a box of bandaids, talking with the woman who had been standing at the top of the hill. 

 

"Sharon Denbrough," the woman introduced herself as they approached. Richie's mom put him down so she could shake hands, and the seven-year-old tore the cloth and bandaids away so he could help the boy on the ground, who's friend was comforting him quietly. 

 

"I'm back!" Richie announced, eyes crossing slightly as he tried to focus on the two shapes before him. "I just.. Um.. Do you know how to do it yourself?" He could feel his cheeks getting hot as he dug at the ground with his toe, holding out the equipment. 

 

"I-I-I do," said Blur One, and Richie noticed his stutter at once. He let the boy take his bandaids and cloth and sat down, averting his eyes so he didn't seem like he was staring. 

 

"I'm Richie Tozier," he introduced himself, staring at the dirt. 

 

"B-Buh-Bill Denbrough," the stuttering boy replied. "And this is E-Eh-Ed-Ed—" 

 

"Eddie Kaspbrak," Blur Two supplied, cutting off his friend. "I told you I hate it when you stutter my name, Big Bill. You sound like Elmer Fudd." 

 

"S-S-Sorry," Bill replied with a sheepish tone to his voice. 

 

"I think Elmer Fudd is cool," Richie protested, and he could feel both of their surprised looks. 

 

"He's a moron!" Eddie's voice argued. 

 

"At least he can ride a bike!" Richie mocked back, and he heard a dramatic gasp. 

 

"I only fell because your stupid road is too steep!" Eddie grumbled. "Why do you keep looking away from us, anyway? You got something wrong with your eyes?" Richie flushed, clapping his hands to his cheeks to hide the redness. 

 

"No!" He replied defensively, but he looked away once again. "I just.. Can't see you, is all. I was about to go get my new glasses when you decided to run me over!" 

 

"I didn't run you over!" Eddie said, but the guilt was evident in his voice. 

 

"Yuh-You kinda d-d-did," Bill pointed out, amusement dripping from his tone. Richie giggled, cupping his hand over his mouth. 

 

"I'm sorry," Eddie muttered begrudgingly after a minute of silence. 

 

"Aww, don't worry about it, Eds," Richie replied cheekily. Eddie made a disgusted sound, and Richie laughed as he was pulled up into his mother's arms, away from his new friends. 

 

"Time to go, Dear," she said, and he hugged his arms around her neck. 

 

"Eddie, suh-say thank you!" Bill scolded quietly. Even though he couldn't see him, Richie turned around and looked at the boy with the pretty brown eyes, imagining what he might look like. 

 

"Thank you!" Eddie called reluctantly. 

 

"You're welcome, Eds!" Richie said as he was carried towards his car. "Come by again soon!" Then the door shut, and he heard no more. 

 

"You'll see them in class tomorrow, Rich," his mother told him fondly as they walked into the optometrist's office. "Sharon told me they had the same teacher as you." 

 

"Really? Like, actually see them this time?" Richie joked. His mother laughed, taking his hand and leading him inside. 

 

Richie did end up getting his glasses. At first, it was really cool, but after a few hours he started to get a headache. All of the detail in the world was too much for his brain. 

 

And yet, despite all of the throbbing in his skull, Richie had a feeling that seeing the face of his new friend at school tomorrow would make it all worth it. 

 

Ο Ο Ο 

 

 

The first place that popped into Richie's mind, just thinking back on what he could remember, was the barrens. But upon turning his feet— or rather, the wheels of his taxi— in that direction, he took a look out the window. 

 

They were right in the heart of the small town. The arcade flashed by, once alive with the lights of the games within, now dull and covered with graffiti. 

 

"Stop!" 

 

Richie choked up, face going slack and braced himself against the seat in front of him when the driver came to a screeching halt. It took him a moment to gain his bearings, and he glanced around, straightening his glasses on his face. It was almost as if the word had been ripped from his vocal cords unwillingly. 

 

"I—" he began, trailing off and staring back out at the arcade in a daze. "Sorry, I just— I'm going to get out here, if that's okay." He pulled out his wallet and with violently trembling hands threw a twenty dollar bill at the guy, then got out and took quick, stuttering steps over to the abandoned building. The driver didn't hesitate to hit the gas, tearing away. Richie hardly spared the fleeing car a glance. 

 

He almost felt dreamlike walking up to the arcade. His arms seemed to move by themselves as he pushed the door opened and stepped inside. The dust rushed into his lungs immediately and he nearly choked on it, coughing and placing his hands on his knees to steady himself. He could almost hear Eddie laughing at him. 

 

"Shut up, Kaspbrak," he muttered, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. His gaze traveled over to Street Fighter, and he suddenly felt smaller than ever. Echoes of the past left him with a ringing in his ears that almost sounded like the voices of young preteens bustling around and arguing over game stats and who's token would be the next to be swallowed by the machine. 

 

Tokens. 

 

Richie walked over to the token machine and searched his pockets, unwilling to feed a dollar rather than a few cents. After all, the machine may not even have anything left in it. He had almost given up when he recognized a familiar weight in the breast pocket of the Hawaiian shirt he had bought at the library. He stood very still for a moment, looking down at the token dispenser with an exhausted sort of longing, and reached into the pocket, pulling out an old and tarnished quarter than had definitely not been there before. 

 

Richie examined the coin, dull nails scraping against the rusted and luster-less metal. He could hardly make out the year on the coin, but after squinting at it and tilting his head just the right way, he made out the year 1988 and couldn't help but laugh with a disbelieving and bitter smile. How ironic. Next, this fucking monster would be telling him that it was the same coin he had used to get that last extra token the day Bowers and his goons had kicked him out of this place for being—

 

Richie blinked and shook his head to clear it. He had come to this arcade too many times to count as a kid— what was so special about that one specific time? A lingering sensation of dread was writhing around in the pit of his stomach— or rather, a dirty secret well-kept. So well kept that he wasn't even sure he remembered it. 

 

Richie dropped the quarter into the slot and cranked the dial, listening for the familiar hunky-clunks that signified that it was working. There was a low groan of gears long since rusted into place turning against their will, the screech of metal on metal, and then the sound of a coin clattering into the beat up and dented cup at the base of the dispenser. 

 

Richie stared down at it for a few seconds— the token was good as new. No way had it spent decades in this machine-x it had to have been coined recently, maybe a week ago at the most. He wondered who in the entire world would be restocking this machine with tokens if nobody was using them— if the games didn't even work. 

 

He picked up the coin, turned around, and suddenly the building was alive, filled with kids of all ages, looking almost like new. His heartbeat picked up speed immediately and he took a shuddering breath, blinked, and it was gone. He clutched the cold piece of metal in his hand tightly, closed his eyes and breathed, willing himself to just walk out the door. 

 

"You didn't tell me your town was full of fucking fairies—" 

 

"Get the fuck out of here, you little fag—" 

 

Richie's eyes flew opened and he made a break for the exit, nearly knocking the door off it's hinges. He felt like a little kid again, following the exact path he had followed that very same day— how he knew that was beyond him, but what he did know was that it was a lot harder to run all the way to the fucking park as a 40 year old man than it was as a 13 year old kid. 

 

If the town had been willing to let the cinema and the arcade go to shit, Richie was shocked that the stupid Paul Bunyan statue was still standing tall and proud. It didn't even look like it had a crack on it, though he wasn't going to get close enough to find out. It had clearly been painted over, because the rosiness of his cheeks was as red and uninviting as ever. 

 

Richie glanced around at the small gathering of people surrounding the outdoor stage and wandered over to a bench, sitting down and shoving his hands into his pockets. He glared up at the statue— or, where the statue should have been. Nothing was there. 

 

And it all came rushing back. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"You're good!" 

 

Richie grinned at the boy beside him for a split second, before directing his gaze back to the screen and landing a few more hit son his character. 

 

"Thanks!" He replied smugly. "I've been practicing all summer— I'm basically a pro. You know, I've beat almost everyone here. But it's no big deal." 

 

"Oh, so you're one to brag, too, huh?" The boy asked, and Richie's heart rate picked up the tiniest bit when he saw a smile flash across the kid's face. Shaking his head slightly, he directed his attention back to Street Fighter and landed the last few solid hits he needed to finish the round. 

 

"Damn," The kid sighed. "You weren't kidding." Richie straightened up, unable to hide his smile, and shrugged. 

 

"Yeah, I guess I wasn't." The boy stood there for a moment, and a long silence ensued, filled only by the bustle of other kids playing games in the background. 

 

"Well, I gotta go—" The boy started to say, turning to leave. 

 

"Um, wait!" Richie said, grabbing his last token and waving it in front of him frantically. "Do you, uh, maybe wanna play one more round? Come on, it'll be fun." He knew he had come on too strong when the kid's face contorted and he gave a weird look. Richie's heart sank, and he retracted his hand, holding the token close to his chest. He glanced over the boy's shoulder and felt a lead weight drop in his stomach as Henry Bowers entered the arcade. 

 

"What the fuck is going on here?" The teen asked coldly, eyes glaring daggers into Richie's soul. 

 

"You didn't tell me your town was full of fucking fairies," The boy accused Henry, backing away from Richie with a disgusted expression. Richie froze, eyes widening. His stomach twisted and his hands started to shake. 

 

They don't know, they don't know, they don't know. They're just making fun. They don't know. 

 

"You try'na fuck with my kid cousin, Tozier?" Bowers demanded, a smile that was anything but pleasant starting to mask his previously cold expression. 

 

"No, I wasn't—" Richie started to protest, taking a few steps back, but Henry cut him off. 

 

"You're just a little faggot, aren't you?" He sneered. Richie's heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest. Everyone was looking at him. He felt like he could really use a puff off of Eddie's inhaler. 

 

Don't think about Eddie when he's calling you a— 

 

"Get the fuck out of here, you little faggot!" Henry shouted. Richie nearly tripped over himself as he backed the rest of the way into the door, turned tail, and ran out of the building. A hot pressure was building up behind his eyes and he took in deep gulps of air. His entire face felt like it was on fire and his throat hurt as a lump started to swell within it. He reached the park and threw himself down onto a bench, tearing his gasses off and burying his face in his hands. He could feel himself trembling and he willed his body to stop, to calm down. 

 

Don't cry. They don't know. Don't cry. They were just making fun. They don't know. 

 

Oh God, what would the Losers think? 

 

Think of what, he asked himself. There was nothing to think. There was nothing to be worried about, nothing to be afraid of people figuring out. 

 

What would Eddie think? 

 

His chest heaved and he wiped his eyes furiously, clearing any tears before they had the chance to fall. When he finally looked up, barely avoiding poking himself in the eye with his glasses as he fumbled to put them back on with trembling hands, he froze. 

 

Richie took he glasses, used his shirt to wipe them, and put them back on, but there was no change. 

 

Paul Bunyan was gone. 

 

He slowly lowered his hands to the seat of the bench, shoulders tensing, and looked to his left. 

 

The stench was worse than anything he had ever smelled in his life, but the sound was worse. It was like his eardrums had been shattered on impact as a screeching laugh more horrible and bloodcurdling than any he had ever heard before blasted a gust of breath so rancid that he nearly upchucked on the spot. 

 

There, towering over him even on it's knees, was the Paul Bunyan statue— but it didn't look right. It's head had grown, and it's mouth took up more than half of it's face with teeth so sharp that Richie didn't even want to know what they could cut through, because all he was worried about was that flesh was most certainly one of them. 

 

A horrified scream sputtered from his mouth and he watched the thing rear back with it's giant axe, swinging it downwards in what seemed like slow motion. Richie threw himself off of the bench and rolled away, hearing the hollow crunch of wood against concrete coming from the spot he had been sitting only moments before. 

 

"Holy fucking shit!" He screeched, getting to his feet and bolting as soon as the thing turned in his direction. "Holy fucking shit, leave me alone!" He only made it a few yards before the axe struck the ground right behind him and the force sent him tumbling forward. He crawled frantically, breathing so hard that it hurt his chest, tears stinging his eyes and causing his vision to go hazy. It felt like he was crawling through mud— he couldn't move his limbs fast enough. He felt like he was drowning. Now he couldn't breathe— it was too much. 

 

Finally, he collapsed on the ground, curled himself up into the tightest shape he could and willed himself out of whatever horror-fest this may be. 

 

"It's not real, it's not real, it's not real!" He cried, burying his face in his knees. "It's not real!" 

 

He waited for the axe to sink into him and break him like a twig, but the moment never came. He waited, muscles tensed up, expecting the end for some time. When enough time had passed for him to feel not confident, but just the slightest bit hopeful, he opened his eyes. 

 

A blue sky stretched expansively above his head, not a cloud to be seen, and not a single thing out of place. Richie saw the statue in its normal spot out of the corner of his eyes, and he finally let a few tears leak down his face as he let his head fall back against the grass. He took his time to breathe, control his heartbeat, and reflect. 

 

All he wanted was to go home and sleep. But he didn't want to be alone. Maybe he would go see if Bev wanted to go to the clubhouse. Maybe he would go see if he could have a turn on the hammock. Maybe he'd see if Eddie wanted to fight him for it again. 

 

Maybe if he pretended it never happened, he would forget it ever did. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie had the sneaking suspicion that he was dreaming, because it was either that, or he was having an out-of-body experience and he had just watched himself get chased by a living statue as a kid. 

 

"Tozier!" An eerily familiar voice shouted, and the hair on the back of Richie's neck stood up. He looked up at the statue— more specifically, what was sitting on its shoulder. 

 

The clown. The fucking clown. 

 

"I know your secret, Richie," It said, lip jutting out in a pout. 

 

"Stop it," Richie sputtered, taking a step back. "Stop it." 

 

They don't know. They don't know. They (do)n't know. 

 

"They will know, Richie," It spoke again, pout morphing into a horrible toothy grin. The balloons he held in his right hand started to lift, and he went with it. Richie stumbled back, mouth falling open in shock. "I know your secret," It sang in a raspy and off-key voice, deranged and crazed as he began dancing towards him through the sky, carried by a simple bunch of red balloons. "Your dirty little secret!" The people in the park joined in, chanting the chorus over and over again even as the clown cut himself off. "Are you going to tell them, Richie? Or should I?" It laughed as its feet touched the ground. 

 

"Stop it!" Richie yelled. "It's not real, it's not real, it's not real!" He squeezed his eyes shut, covering his face with his hands. The people around the park went silent. Richie breathed in slowly and exhaled even slower. "It's not real," he repeated more calmly. 

 

He opened his eyes. 

 

"Boo!" The clown laughed maniacally and Richie cried out, stumbling backwards into the crowd of people. Hands grabbed at him from all directions. He flailed, fighting against their grips, and shoved his way back out, tearing his way out of the park and down the street. 

 

"Fuck you!" He screamed freely as he ran, refusing to look back for anything. For a brief second, the memory of a too-slow bike ride and the terror of looking back loomed over him and the ghost of the searing pain of claw marks ripped their way down his back. Richie shook his head vigorously and just ran faster, flying by the few stragglers of the town who happened to be out on the street. 

 

He didn't slow until he saw the Townhouse and the pain of a distant memory not-yet uncovered faded from his troubled mind. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

It was going to take a lot to convince Richie to stay after what he saw at the park. He had shut himself in his room, locked the door, and curled up on the freshly made bed without giving himself much time to think. 

 

Then he cried. 

 

It wasn't a bad cry— just a sort of sniffling, shoulder-shaking whisper of a few sobs. Someone knocked on his door almost as soon as the tears started, and for a moment he quieted, willing them away silently. The knock sounded again, and he sniffed, wiping his eyes under his glasses and getting to his feet. 

 

"Yeah, who is it?" He called, voice wavering ever so slightly. 

 

"It's Ben." 

 

Richie ran a hand down the side of his face, walking over and opening the door a bit. He looked up at the taller man, raising his eyebrows. 

 

"What?" He asked calmly, clearing his throat. "I'm uh, I'm kind of busy." 

 

"You can't leave, Rich," Ben said. "We need everyone. You've gotta stay, just like all of us." 

 

"Okay, listen, Haystack, you know I—" Richie broke off with a sigh and ran a hand through the mop of hair on his head. "You know I'd love to join your little gang bang with this motherfucker Pennywise, but I'd kinda like to live a little longer, and I was kinda hoping maybe I'd convince Eddie to come with me, so I think I'm just gonna get packing, you know?" He nodded, refusing to meet Ben's eyes. 

 

"Well, what if Eddie decides to stay?" Ben countered. Richie's hand slipped off the doorknob and the door swung open a little bit more as he regained his balance, rubbing his hands together anxiously and flexing his fingers. 

 

"Then, um, then I guess I'll just leave by myself, then, how's that sound, huh?" He asked, forcing a smile. Ben started to say something, but there was a bustle of movement behind him and Eddie himself flashed past, uttering a strangled 'Excuse me' and slamming the door to the room next door. 

 

"Well, if you'll excuse me," Richie said distractedly, pushing past Ben and hurrying after the other man, knocking at the door rapidly. "Eddie, are you okay? Can I come in?" 

 

"Richie, come on. Just tell me you'll stay," Ben pleaded. 

 

"Yeah, sure fine," Richie said absently before knocking again. "Eds! I'm gonna open the door." He tried the knob and it opened just fine, so he let himself in and closed the door behind him. He could hear the water in the bathroom running and a hushed voice speaking to itself so he headed in that direction, approaching the door slowly. 

 

"Knock knock," he said. Eddie nearly jumped out of his skin, shrieking, but when his gaze settled on Richie he immediately relaxed. 

 

"Oh!" He sighed, clutching his heart. Richie observed the dark stains all over his clothes and the water dripping from his face and raised his eyebrows. 

 

"Are you okay, Eds?" He asked. Eddie sighed, looking down. 

 

"Don't call me that," he said half heartedly. "No. I hate everything about what's happening here. I'm leaving." 

 

"Me too!" Richie blurted. "I was about to pack up, but Haystack started trying to convince me to stay. I'm not really buying it. I told him I would but I wanted to ask you if you'd go with me— well, if you would want to come with me, I mean. You don't have to, of course, I just— I thought I might as well ask, because if I'm leaving there's no way in hell I'm leaving you behind." He took a deep breath, and tried again. "I don't want you to get hurt, Spaghetti. So... Please don't stay here. Come leave with me. At least let me give you a ride back to the airport. I could even drive you home if you want. I just want to make sure you get where you're going safely." 

 

"Richie..." Eddie was grinning wider than Richie had seen him smile since they had gotten home. "You're sweeter than you used to be." 

 

"Nah," Richie bluffed, cheeks darkening. "I just never let you in on the secret." 

 

"Yeah, sure fucking thing," Eddie agreed with a heavily sarcastic undertone. "You were always a dick back then. You couldn't have cared less if I got hurt when you weren't there." 

 

"Are you fucking kidding me, Eddie?" Richie asked, offended. "Of course I would have fucking cared. I wanted to kill Bowers after he broke your arm." Eddie bit his bottom lip, and Richie tore his gaze away, allowing it to catch on the glittering gold band around the man's finger. His heart dropped into his stomach and he almost felt as though the world had been yanked from beneath his feet. 

 

"Eds... How long have you been married?" Richie asked slowly, gesturing to his hand. Eddie looked down, then back up with wide eyes. 

 

"Oh— Um, not long," he mumbled, twisting the ring around his finger anxiously. "A few years. Her name is Myra. He's nice." Eddie nodded, as if to confirm his own words. Richie straightened up, shoving his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. 

 

"Well, fuck, Eddie, I wish you'd'a told me that..." Richie shrugged, heat causing his cheeks to become redder by the second. He was sure his ears were on fire. Jesus. Eds, married. Married? Jesus. 

 

"Well— I mean, well, I just um, I guess I just didn't think it was that... important.." Eddie's voice got quieter with every word, and Richie took his glasses off, pinching the bridge of his nose. 

 

"Jesus, Eds." He shook his head, taking in a deep breath through his nose. "Nice... She's nice? Huh? Nice how? She pretty?" 

 

"No," Eddie mumbled begrudgingly. "Sometimes she reminds me too much of my Ma." 

 

"You said you got away from your Ma!" Richie protested, eyes widening. "You said you were done!" 

 

"I am! Ma died a few years ago anyway!" Eddie countered, a defensive look in his eyes. "But I was missing her. She wasn't there, and at the time, Myra was. So I just... I didn't want to lose Ma completely, I guess." 

 

"Jesus Christ." Richie put his hands on his head and turned away. "I'm gonna go. You can come if you want. Or stay. But I'm leaving." 

 

"Richie, wait!" Eddie said, surprise lacing his tone. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but don't go— I just... I didn't want you to be disappointed." 

 

"Well, I'm pretty fucking disappointed, Eds," Richie said, turning to look at him again with a bitter smile. "Pretty fucking disappointed. I thought maybe we'd go back to the way it was. We always talked about this kinda stuff. Remember Greta Keene? You thought she was beautiful back in the day. You told me all about it! And you didn't even think any less of her after she wrote 'loser' on your cast." 

 

"Richie, I—" Eddie started, but the taller man just shook his head. 

 

"Just forget it, Eddie. It's not my business what you want to share and what you want to keep private. I have my fair share of secrets, too." He turned and headed for the door. "See you around, Spaghetti. Or maybe not." With that, he headed out. He shut the door of his own room and locked it behind him, then got to shoving all of his luggage back into their respective bags. 

 

His heart felt a little bit like it had been stepped on. He threw his window open and tossed his bag out onto the stairs outside of it, then stopped and looked back around his room. He glanced at the wall that stood between him and Eddie, then took a few slow steps towards it. In a moment of cinematic brilliance, he reached out and touched his fingertips to the wallpaper. 

 

"In another life, maybe," he said, taking a flare for the dramatic in order to hopefully make himself feel better. 

 

Then he heard a muffled shout. 

 

Brow furrowing, Richie pressed his ear the wall, and his heart nearly stopped. 

 

Eddie screamed. Footsteps thundered right next to his ear. There was a thud. Something crashed. Richie scrambled out of his room. He stumbled to Eddie's and threw the door opened just in time to hear a clean snap and a horrified screech of pain. There was a sickening squelch, and a strangled choking sound. Richie stumbled out into the bedroom portion of Eddie's room and saw the man standing over a convulsing body with the bloody remains of a broken water bottle in one hand and the other hanging limply by his side. 

 

"Richie," Eddie moaned, dropping the water bottle and stumbling towards him. 

 

"Oh my God," Richie said. "Oh my God." 

 

"Richie, my arm, he broke my arm—" he tripped over the dying man's foot and Richie lurched forward, catching him as he began to fall. His hand closed around the limp arm and Eddie screamed out in pain. Richie gasped, nearly dripping him, but instead gathered him up very carefully and guided him out of the room. 

 

"Okay, Eds, it's okay, come on, we'll fix this," he said, slinging Eddie's good arm over his shoulder and curling his own arm tightly around Eddie's waist. "It's okay, you're going to be fine. We'll just go, we'll stop in a hospital on the way home and we'll take care of it—" 

 

"Eddie!" Beverly's voice called out, and Richie looked around wildly, before spotting her at the top of the stairs. "Oh my God, Richie, what happened?" 

 

"I don't—" Richie started, losing himself in the way his breaths started to come faster. "I don't know. There was a man—" 

 

"Bowers!" Eddie spat out. "He came at me with a knife— he knocked me down against my dresser and broke my arm again. My water bottle dropped and shattered, so I picked it up and I stabbed him and— oh God, Bevvie, I think he's dead—" 

 

"Okay, calm down!" Bev said, holding her hands up. "Let's bring him downstairs," she said to Richie, an eerie calmness seeming to encompass her. Richie nodded frantically. "We'll make a splint out of whatever we can find. He's going to be fine." 

 

"He'll be fine if we fucking leave!" Richie hissed, but followed her down the stairs anyway. He settled Eddie down in a chair and pulled one up right next to him, looking on anxiously as Beverly ordered Ben around, gathering supplies. "We gotta get out of here, Eds," he muttered, eyeing the hand that lay unattended on the man's knee. Part of him longed to grab it. Part of him was still terrified of what he had said in the bathroom only a few minutes earlier. 

 

"Richie, I need to talk to you— aghh!" Eddie winced when Beverly started to set his arm, squeezing his eyes shut. Richie watched with a pained expressed, and finally just grabbed Eddie's hand tightly. Eddie gripped his hand right back. "I need to talk to you after this," he finished, eyes huge. 

 

"O-Okay," Richie agreed, glancing at Ben, who just shrugged. "Okay, we can talk. Bev, how much longer?" 

 

"A long few minutes if you want me to do it right," She grumbled. "Stop rushing me." 

 

"Okay!" Richie snapped, looking away. "I'm just— I'm nervous, okay? And I wanna get out of here." 

 

"You know what, Richie?" He said, throwing down her gauze. "Fucking leave, then. Go get your stuff and be on your merry fucking way. But if you leave, we're all gonna die. And you will, too." 

 

"So what?" Richie snarled against his better judgement. "We all fucking die, don't we, Beverly?" 

 

"Not like Stan did," She retorted, knuckles turning white the harder she clenched her fists. "Not like Stan did, in his bathtub, with razors in his arms." 

 

"Christ, Bev," Ben whispered from across the room. 

 

"What?" She shouted, rounding on him. "It's true, isn't it? We all end up like him. I saw it!" 

 

"You saw it?" Eddie asked. "What do you mean you saw it?" 

 

"The deadlights!" 

 

Everyone jumped. Bill was standing in the doorway. "She's the o-o-only one who suh-suh-saw them." He took a look at Eddie and his brow furrowed. "Wuh-wuh-what h-happened to you?" 

 

"Bowers," Richie said darkly, letting go of Eddie's hand. "I'm gonna fucking kill him—" 

 

"I kinda already got to that, Rich," Eddie said. 

 

"Maybe he's not dead," Richie insisted. "I should just go check—" 

 

"No," Bill said quickly. "If Ed-Ed-Eddie says he's dead, he's duh-duh-duh-dead. Bev, I c-can finish Eh-Eh-Eddie's arm. You cuh-call Mike." They switched places, and Bill fit a bent length of curtain rod against Eddie's wrapped arm, continuing the splinting process. 

 

"Jesus Christ..." Richie rubbed his eyes under his glasses, plopping back down into the seat next to Eddie. "I can't wait to get the fuck out of here." 

 

"You can't leave, Rich. We need you." Bill looked at him very seriously, and something in his gaze made Richie feel like he was frozen still. He took a deep breath and shook his head. 

 

"No, yeah, I know. I know, Big Bill. I just.." He bit the inside of his cheek, then offered a pained smile. "I'm scared. I don't wanna lose any of you." 

 

"We're all scared too, Rich," Eddie piped up, frowning. "None of us want to lose anyone. But if we aren't all together, the chances of that happening goes up by a considerable amount. You know that." 

 

"I know!" Richie insisted, looking away. "I get it. I can't go anywhere. Whatever." 

 

"Guys!" Bev rushed back into the room, cheeks flushed, eyes wet and voice breathless. "We've got a problem." All eyes were on her. She brushed her hair out of her face and took a breath. "Mike is in the hospital. They say he might die overnight." 

 

Richie called the hospital while Bill finished Eddie's splint and Bev cried, using up an entire box of Kleenex. It was almost too easy to get what information he desired— A name and the word 'reporter' got the job done very nicely. 

 

"It's not looking good," he told the others once he hung up. "They don't know who did it but I'll give you all three guesses and if I'm wrong then my name isn't Richie 'Records' Tozier." Everyone cast uncomfortable glances at the stairs. Eddie took a puff of his inhaler. Beverly sniffled. "He isn't leaving any time soon." An eerie silence fell upon them. 

 

"Well, we suh-suh-swore," Bill pointed out regretfully. They all nodded. "Eddie?" The brunet looked around at all of their gaunt faces, and Richie avoided his gaze guiltily. He felt it burn into the side of his head, but he didn't look up. 

 

"Looks like I'm getting another pigger-back down that ladder, huh? If the ladder is still there." He was smiling, but Richie could hear the anxiety in the man's voice. He could always tell with Eddie. Like they had been kids just yesterday. 

 

"Do we do it now, Big Bill?" Richie asked. Bill nodded solemnly. 

 

"I th-th-think so. It's t-time." He cast a meaningful look at each of the Losers. When he got to Ben, the man cleared his throat and got to his feet. 

 

"Can I say something?" He asked, frowning. 

 

Bill grinned. "A-A-Anytime." 

 

Ben took a deep breath and lifted his chin. "I wanted to tell you that wherever I am, whatever happens, I'll always think of you guys, and the time we spent together, as my happiest time. I'd do it all over again, if I had the choice. No regrets." 

 

Everyone gradually started to smile. Richie reached behind the bar and pulled out six glasses and a bottle of vodka. 

 

"I'll drink to that." He poured a little in each glass and picked them all up, avoiding Eddie's eyes when he gave him his cup and resuming his original position. They all lifted their glasses. 

 

"Cheers." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο 

 

 

Seeing the house on Neibolt Street in person after 27 blissfully ignorant years of its existence was worse than a solid punch to the gut. Richie hated every second of it. He felt like the house was watching him as it towered over the Losers with its rotting shingles and creaking floorboards. 

 

"I hate this place," Richie said, hoping the others would be polite enough to ignore the tremor in his voice. He could see Eddie staring at him out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't look back despite the painful twinge in his heart. All he could think of was a glittering band of metal around the ring finger of a hand that was never his to hold. 

 

"It's tuh-tuh-time." Bill stood at the top of the steps. Ben and Bev stood at the bottom. Richie hung back a few steps, trying not to react to the feeling of Eddie standing just behind him. Bill turned around to face everyone, expression grim. 

 

Richie glanced at the holes in the lattice-skirt hanging around it and was thrown back momentarily into the memory of the teenage werewolf. His back stung madly and for a moment his vision ran red with the blood dripping from his forehead. He drew in a breath, reaching up and furiously rubbing at his eyes. 

 

"Rich?" Eddie asked. A hand touched Richie's shoulder and he jumped, jerking away. His eyes flew open and huge brown ones stared right back at him. Eddie was right in front of him, brow furrowed, concern etched all over his face. "Are you okay?" 

 

"No," Richie answered. "I'm not okay, Eddie." He wrapped his arms around himself and turned back to look at Bill. "Let's kill this fucking clown." The stuttering man nodded firmly and the group started to move. 

 

Richie put a bit more distance between himself and Eddie, sticking closer to Bill's side as they entered the house. His gaze automatically shifted to the room where he had found the poster of himself, but he shook his head and pressed on, observing the unending cobwebs and dirt. 

 

"Love what he's done with the place," Richie commented dryly. 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," Eddie said, and the man fell begrudgingly silent after a muttered apology. Bev and Ben wandered into the room to the right. Eddie tailed Richie and Bill as they made their way into the kitchen, and Richie's stomach dropped. He drifted over to the counter they had sat by, crouched down, and remembered. 

 

"I held your face in my hands in this spot right here," he murmured, patting the surface fondly. "All I wanted was the make sure that the last thing you saw wasn't a horrible monster. I really thought we were gonna die." 

 

"We didn't," Eddie said. "Bev came." 

 

"I know," Richie agreed. "Bev came." 

 

There was a sudden scream from a few rooms over and the door between them slammed shut. Richie got to his feet and ran over, crashing against it in an attempt to open it with force. 

 

"It's starting!" He cried, yanking on the knob. "Bev! What's going on?!" 

 

"He's being cut!" She screamed back. "Ben, it's cutting him, it's killing him!" 

 

"What the fuck?" Eddie shouted. Bill started pounding on the door with Richie. 

 

"Hold on!" Richie said, and backed up. "I'm gonna break the door down." He reached the other end of the room and got ready to make a run for it. 

 

"It didn't work last time, how can you be sure it'll work this time?!" Eddie asked frantically, squishing himself into the far corner. 

 

"I can't, but I have to try!" Richie growled. He tensed up, closed his eyes, and lifted his foot to go. 

 

The fridge started to shake. 

 

"No..." Eddie gasped, breath suddenly beginning to whistle. "No, no, no, no, somebody stop it!" Richie backed towards the corner Eddie was standing in, arm instinctively moving out to cover him more fully. 

 

"What the fuck is that?" He asked, breathless. "Bill?" 

 

"B-Beverly!" Bill was still screaming. "Beverly, I'm coming!" 

 

"It's the clown!" Eddie shouted. "He comes out of the fridge!" 

 

The refrigerator went still. Richie held his breath. Eddie's fingers curled into the back of Richie's Hawaiian shirt. The door opened slowly. 

 

Stan's eyes started to open, and Richie was a little bit sure that he might have peed himself. 

 

"What the fuck," he breathed, putting his arms out a little wider and pressing Eddie further still into the corner. "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck—" 

 

Stan's head dropped off of his shoulders and rolled into the middle of the room. Bill was quiet now, looking around at it with horror in his eyes. 

 

"Stanley," Eddie whimpered, tugging Richie closer. "It's Stan." 

 

A surprised shriek escaped the brunet when legs started to protrude from the face of their old friend. Antenna, legs, and pincers got bigger and started to lift up the head until it was standing as some sort of mutant spider-like creature. 

 

"Run!" Richie yelled when it started to scurry towards him with a high-pitched cackle. He wound up and kicked it to the other side of the room before grabbing Eddie and shoving him along the wall, heart beating wildly inside his chest. Bill sent it skittering in the opposite direction and as Eddie squished into the next corner, the other two men met along the far wall, bunching together and facing it as it started to climb up into the dark and broken ceiling panels. 

 

"Shit!" Bill said. Silence fell upon the room and a crash was heard from somewhere else in the house. Richie could still hear Eddie's breath whistling. He made his way across the room, approaching the brunet cautiously. 

 

"Eddie—" he began, and then froze in his tracks when a line of spit dropped from above and dangled before his very eyes. Richie slowly looked up. The head clung to the wooden beams above his head with a smile full of teeth sharper than the sharpest knife. It let out a horrible screech and dropped down onto Richie's face, legs digging into his cheeks and temples, chomping down the closer it got to his head. 

 

Richie screamed bloody murder, shoving at the thing as hard as he could. He could feel someone else pulling from the other side and faintly heard Bill order Eddie to pick up something off of the ground. He waited for the relief, screwing his eyes shut as those teeth got closer and closer and the noise drowned out everything else. Drool and blood and mucus flooded into his open mouth from the mouth of the monster's. 

 

"What the fuck oh my God!" He cried, pushing with all of his might. Suddenly, the legs went slack. Richie opened his eyes to see Stan's young face go blank, eyelids fluttering ever-so-slightly. Then he was gone, flying across the room, and Richie sat up, gasping for breath and choking up every last drop of liquid. He heaved up blood and mucus, crouching on his hands and knees. His stomach churned dangerously and he could feel instinctive tears running in streams down his face. 

 

"W-W-Why didn't you suh-save him?!" Bill's voice swam in and out of Richie's ears as he sat trembling beside a puddle of sick. He took deep gulps of air and wiped his eyes firmly, cleaning his glasses on the cleanest patch of his shirt that he could find. Finally, he caught his breath. He looked up and through his mucked-up lenses he saw Bill standing inches from a terrified Eddie Kaspbrak. 

 

"P-Please don't be mad, Bill," Eddie whimpered. Richie struggled to his feet with the help of Bev, who had appeared looking quite shaken with a pale Ben by her side. 

 

"Bill," Richie forced out, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him away. "Don't. We're all scared. Let's just keep moving, okay? Get this over with." The original Loser hesitated, glancing back at the cowering man that was Eddie Kaspbrak, then let his shoulders sag. 

 

"Y-Yeah, okay," he agreed reluctantly. Richie nodded, then reached out and closed his fingers around the sleeve of Eddie's good arm, pulling him out of the corner. Everyone turned as one to look at the door that led to the basement. 

 

"That's it," Ben said. Nobody said anything. Richie let go of Eddie's arm and walked away without looking back, heading into the basement stairs and towards the well. 

 

"Fucking Christ," he laughed humorlessly. "Who's carrying Eddie?" 

 

"I will," Ben volunteered. 

 

"I don't think you'll both fit," Bev said doubtfully. "Your shoulders are too broad. Maybe Richie should do it." 

 

"No," Richie said too quickly, frowning deeply as they all gave him questioning looks. "I mean— No problem," he amended, looking away. "Hop on, Spaghetti Man." Eddie seemed to hesitate while the others started to climb down one by one. Richie turned his back to the man and hunched down a little bit. He was almost certain the brunet wasn't climbing on when he felt a light pressure on his shoulder, and then the weight of the small man clambering on top of him. A pair of legs wrapped around his waist securely, and despite the grave nature of their situation and Richie's anger with the man, he almost couldn't help but wish that they were wrapped around him from the front, not the back. 

 

He took a deep breath and pushed the fantasy away, taking a few test-steps towards the well. "You ready?" 

 

"As I'll ever be." Eddie tightened his grip a little bit, squeezing his thighs around Richie's hips, and Richie shivered. He knew Eddie felt it because he felt the man's chest jump against his back. 

 

"O-Okay," Richie stuttered, watching Ben's head disappear beneath the edge of the stony ledge. "Here we go, then." He struggled to ignore the feeling of Eddie's breath, hot against the back of his neck, and focus instead on finding the right footholds as he started to climb downwards. 

 

He couldn't decide if it was a relief or a disappointment when Eddie climbed off at the bottom. Part of him missed the closeness. Part of him wanted as much distance as he could possibly get from a married man that had been the love of his life just a few hours prior— and still was, if Richie was being blatantly honest with himself. But lying to his own heart had gotten him this far, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to make it work until he got back to LA and forgot everything all over again. 

 

It was exactly how he remembered it from when he was a kid. Disgusting, slimy, and darker than he thought dark could be. But it only got darker once they got into the almost unrecognizable lair that they had fought the clown in once before. 

 

It was filled with water and nearly devoid of anything aside from that. As the Losers waded across, Richie was sure something had to be swimming beneath their feet, but he made it across okay. He turned around to see Eddie struggling at the edge of the water, Bev close behind, looking back into the hazy blackness. He slid back down to the edge and reached down, grabbing Eddie under the armpits and heaving him up over the edge. 

 

"Gah!" Eddie squeaked, good arm flinging out to curl around Richie and hold on for dear life as he was dragged further up the old mound of missing items. Richie reached the flat surface of the top and sat there, holding Eddie close for a few seconds longer than perhaps he should have. 

 

"I'm sorry," Eddie mumbled into Richie's shoulder, tightening his grip around the taller man. "I'm sorry I wasn't brave enough to save you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Myra. I'm sorry about everything." 

 

"Eds," Richie interrupted, pressing his face into that not-so-perfect hair and breathing in the smell of his first friend and his first love. "You had a moment. Fine. But who killed a psychotic clown before he was fourteen?" He could see tears swimming in the man's eyes. He reached down and very carefully wiped them away before they could fall, curling his fingers into the hair at the base of Eddie's neck. 

 

"Me," came the soft reply. 

 

"That's right," Richie agreed. "Who broke his arm and still killed Bowers with a shattered bottle right after?" 

 

"Me." His voice was a little steadier this time. 

 

"Yeah, Eds," Richie said, nudging him a little. Eddie sat up and looked at him with sad eyes. "You're braver than you think," Richie told him simply with a soft smile. 

 

"Thanks, Richie," Eddie whispered. They stood up together, and Richie led Eddie over to the hatch Bill was standing over. Beverly was pulling herself up over the edge, and Ben was helping her. 

 

"Is everyone ruh-ruh-ready?" Bill asked a final time. Determined glances were shared by the remaining Losers, and Eddie took a deep breath, fingers brushing the back of Richie's hand before snagging his gently. 

 

"Let's do this." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The crawl space was too tight for Richie to carry Eddie the whole way through, so he reluctantly let the man slide off and go ahead of him once it got too small. 

 

"I don't know how far I can go on one arm," Eddie worried aloud. Richie smacked his can and the brunet lurched forward with a shocked noise protruding from deep in his belly. 

 

"Then get going, Spaghetti Man, we can't sit here all day whining about it!" 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," Eddie grumbled, and Richie had a feeling if he could see the man's face, it would be bright red. He couldn't help but smirk. Eddie finally began to move, and they made their descent deeper into the caves. 

 

It's true home was nothing like Richie expected it to be. Black spikes came up from the ground like fingers of a clawed hand trying to grasp those who stood there in its grasp. The air was so still that it almost didn't seem to be there at all. 

 

"Oh God," Beverly moaned, voice shaking. "It's here. I can feel it." 

 

It was like her words flipped a switch. It felt like someone had poured a bucket of icewater down the back of Richie's shirt. He froze up, reached blindly behind him and grasped Eddie's hand tightly in his own. 

 

"Scatter!" Bill suddenly screamed. Fear leaped into Richie's heart and he yanked Eddie after him, making a break for the nearest escape route he could find. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie screeched. "It's huge it's a fucking spider, RUN!" Richie could hear the thundering steps of It right behind them when he dove between the cracks in the walls and tugged Eddie into the small tunnel with him, moving as quickly as possible. He raced to the back wall, spared one glance behind them and saw some tentacle-like appendage following them with a mouth on the end. 

 

"Eddie, go," Richie hissed, shoving the man in front of him and continuing on. "Go as far as you can as fast as you can." 

 

"I'm going!" Eddie cried, and he was. Richie followed quickly, kicking back at the slimy toothed tentacle every few seconds until suddenly they stumbled into a small cave that appeared the be a dead end. 

 

"Shit!" Richie hissed, turning around and holding Eddie behind him. The tentacle wound up, and Richie squeezed his eyes shut, tensing his muscles. Nothing happened. He peeked to see the thing struggling to reach them but coming a foot or so short. "Holy mother of God," Richie breathed. 

 

"Rich," Eddie sputtered. "Look." He turned around to face the wall behind them and his heart sank. Three eerily familiar doors stood before him— the very doors that had kept him from reaching Eddie the first time they had been in this house. 

 

"It's tricking us! Playing mind games!" Richie said. "Open the one that says extremely scary!" They rushed over to the blood-encrusted door that was all the way to the right and swung it open. At first glance it seemed like a normal closet, but the voice that sometimes haunted Richie's dreams stuttered out the same Godforsaken phrase that it had last time:

 

"Where is my shoe?" 

 

Before Richie could stop him, Eddie reach out and pulled on the light string. The bloody lower half of Betty Ripsom's corpse came walking towards them out of the darkness. Richie lunged forward and slammed the door shut, pulling Eddie away, and spun around. 

 

"Eddie, Eddie!" He gasped, pointing. "It's gone!" He clutched the man's shoulders tightly and took a few deep breaths. "Just... Take a minute." 

 

"Richie," Eddie said, and threw his good arm around the man's neck, collapsing against him in a tight hug. Shocked, Richie hesitated. Then he thought, this is Eddie. You might die in a few minutes anyway. Hold him while you've got the chance. So he did. He gathered the man up in his arms, buried his face into the side of Eddie's neck. 

 

"I missed you," he told him, curling his fingers tightly into the back of his shirt. "Even if I didn't know who I was missing, I missed you every day." 

 

"I missed you too," Eddie confessed. "I listened to you on the radio all the time— I knew who you were. Well, kind of. And when I heard your voice on the radio, I could sort of picture you in my head, and I—" he cut himself off with a shuddering gasp. "And I couldn't figure out why I felt like I was missing something so important. Like you're a part of me." 

 

"Aww, shucks, Spaghetti," Richie laughed. "I never took you for being the sappy type." 

 

"Beep-beep, asshole," Eddie said, but he laughed too. He gave a final squeeze, and they pulled away, looking away awkwardly. 

 

"We should get going," Richie said. Eddie glanced up, a regretful smile tugging at his lips. 

 

"Yeah," he agreed. "We should." 

 

They crept back through the thin tunnel, wincing at every shout, roar, or screech from the battle still erupting in the main cavern. When they reached the edge, Richie let go of Eddie's hand and assessed the situation. Bill was clambering out of a small pool and It was waiting for him. He finally got a good look at the thing they were fighting. 

 

The clown's head was enormous. It rested atop the body of a spider bigger than any other spider that had ever been seen by human eyes. And it was about to kill one of his best friends. 

 

"Hey, Ugly!" Richie shouted, picking up a hefty rock and lobbing it at the monster. It struck the creature right in the head, and Pennywise's face turned to look at him with dark, furious amber eyes. "Come get a load of this!" He continued, picking up another rock and running out into the open. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie gasped, and It started crawling towards him, thundering along the cave floors. Richie threw the next rock and picked up another. 

 

"Leave my friends alo—" 

 

The words had hardly left Richie's mouth when the lights appeared, and he suddenly knew everything, yet nothing all at once. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

If there was one thing Eddie Kaspbrak didn't think he was, it would have to be brave. So when he went running at the very definition of evil with nothing but a broken arm and a dented aspirator clutched tightly in his other hand, he wasn't exactly sure what he had been thinking. But the next thing he knew, he had that inhaler halfway down the clow's throat and he was screaming bloody murder in it's face. 

 

"Take this, you motherfucking bitch!" He shouted. "It's battery acid! Eat it, bitch! Eat it!" He triggered the contraption once, twice, a third and fourth time. The thing was howling— he could hear it in his mind. I'm reading its mind! 

 

Then there was blinding pain, and Eddie stumbled back in a daze. It cowered, clambering up into that black claw-like hand. Hand, Eddie thought, and he could almost laugh when he tried to clench his own into a fist but felt nothing. 

 

"Richie!" He mumbled hazily, falling back on his ass and looking down at the stump that seemed to be spraying out so much blood that it felt like a horror movie. "Richie, I think we won. Come here!" He fell onto his back and lay there, staring at the ceiling. He could hear Beverly shouting in the distance and the rush of footsteps by his ears. 

 

"Eh-Eh-Eddie!" 

 

Bill was there. He was kneeling beside Eddie with a horrified look in his eyes. Eddie furrowed his eyebrows, peering up at him with swimming vision. 

 

"What's wrong?" He asked, heart beginning to beat a little faster. "I killed It, didn't I? I think we won! Help me up, we have to go find Richie and tell him." He struggled to move, lift himself up, but his right side didn't seem to want to obey. He looked over again and remembered. "Oh, right. I forgot." Ironically, he started to laugh. "It looks like a scene straight outta one of your movies, don't it, Billy?" 

 

Then he started to cry. 

 

"—eds—" 

 

Faraway. Unimportant. Whispers and crashes and the rush of water began to fill his ears, and he stared up at the ceiling once more. 

 

"— eds your arm oh my god bill beverly someone—" 

 

Someone else was kneeling over him now. Eddie tried to concentrate, and a beautiful face came into focus. A beautiful face covered with blood and soot and with glasses so dirty that how he could see anything through them was a mystery. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie said, and he felt a weight in his chest lift. "You're here!" 

 

"Of course I'm here, Spaghetti Man!" Richie assured him, and Eddie was faintly aware of the sensation of something being pressed to the stump that was still bleeding on his right side. "Of course I'm here!" Hands gripped his cheeks and pulled his face away from his stump, forcing him to look back up at his best friend. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie said again, face lighting up in a smile. 

 

"Yeah, Eds." Richie was crying. Eddie reached up and touched his face, as if to make sure he was really there. 

 

"You came!" He marveled. "You're here. I have to tell you something." 

 

"Yeah, Eds, What is it?" Richie asked, leaning in close. Eddie couldn't help but grin as he leaned forward as much as he could, lips ghosting Richie's ear. 

 

"Don't call me Eds. You know I...." He hesitated. "I..." He tried again, smile fading. What had he been saying? It all seemed so distant now. His head hit the ground with a dull thunk. The rushing of water mixed with the distant whispers became so loud that he couldn't hear anything else. 

 

Then there was nothing. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

2.  Lung

The voice is too loud
I'm losing in the crowd
Because I, can't breathe
Oh, I can't breathe

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017


Everything ended. Then it began again.

 

When the world stops spinning, even for a second, everything is thrown off balance. Including the passage of time. This is something It could utilize.

 

For when Richie Tozier's world stopped spinning, It grasped that split second of imbalance, and began to turn back the clock.

 

Backwards, reverse, spinning like a top.

 

Then it stopped.

 

And the world started spinning once more, a seemingly meaningless second twisted into a perverted fantasy that would haunt the nightmares of those to experience it for the rest of their lives. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

It felt like he was floating. He knew that couldn't be the case, because he wasn't in water, and he was too heavy to do it in the air, but nevertheless, he felt like he was floating.

 

The distant screams of his friends echoed in his ears as he cradled What Once Was in his arms. Not What Is— What Once Was.

 

Then time reversed itself, and the screams faded, and the body of his first love dissipated between his very fingertips. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Richie Tozier opened his eyes to what seemed to be a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon.

 

He sat up and rubbed his eyes, reaching over and grasping for the glasses that were not there. He looked at the old, wooden nightstand beside his bed, and his heart dropped into his stomach.

 

Eddie.

 

He got to his feet and looked around his room, pulse quickening. His suitcase sat unopened in the corner— where he most certainly had not left it. He peered out the window at the rickety metal staircase platform he had dropped his luggage onto just a few hours prior and found nothing there.

 

Anxiety beginning to reach its peak, Richie hurried into the bathroom and found everything in its place, which was not how it had been before he went to the sewers. His things were nowhere to be found. Rushing back into the bedroom, he made a grab for the toiletry bag by his dresser and opened it, riffling through with trembling hands and pulling out his old pair of glasses.

 

They were dusty.

 

He blew them off and out them on, blinking and glancing around with a furrowed brow. Had he come home and packed without really remembering any of it? Had they killed It? Was Mike still alive, or had he died overnight in the hospital? Lastly, and arguably most importantly, what of Eddie? Where did they put his body?

 

Questions and confusion swarmed his thoughts. He needed ibuprofen.

 

Eddie will have some.

 

The thought struck him and left his entire body seizing up. The tears began to spill hot and heavy. He crouched down where he stood, in the middle of his room, covered his eyes under his glasses and allowed the sobs to fill his empty room.

 

Eddie was gone. His Eddie. His Eds. His Spaghetti Man. Gone.

 

Richie realized he had developed a new burning hatred for the word 'gone' and everything it represented. Nothing good ever came from 'gone' unless it was something worth getting rid of.

 

He cried out his frustration at the world, slamming his fist against the old wooden floorboards and flinching whine he heard it splinter. A stinging sensation began to spread throughout his hand, and he lifted it to see a thin prick of wood sticking into the skin.

 

"Fuck you," he whimpered to the floor, before getting up and wiping off his face. He took a few deep breaths to compose himself, cleaning his glasses on his shirt, and freezing.

 

His Hawaiian shirt was gone.

 

"Must've packed that too," he grumbled, before exiting his room and heading down the stairs to the front lobby. The man at the front desk looked up upon his arrival and smiled pleasantly. Richie tried to smile back, but he knew his eyes were puffy and red, so he gave up pretty quickly.

 

"How can I help you, sir?" The man asked. "Is everything alright with the room?"

 

"Everything is fine," Richie said.

 

"Alrighty! Just so you're aware, once you've been with us for over a day, we cannot move your reservations to a different room. Townhouse policy. So, if you'd like your room switched, let us know before the day is up!" The man's smile only seemed to grow wider, and Richie just got more and more confused. He had already been here for over a day, hadn't he?

 

Shaking his head, he cleared his throat and held up his hand to show the splinter. "You wouldn't happen to have a bandaid, would you?"

 

"Of course!" The employee replied. Just wait right here." He scurried away and into the back room. The bell on the front door jingled to signify that somebody had entered the building. Richie ignored it, lowering his head and sighing heavily. How long did it take to get a damn bandaid?

 

"Just one moment, sir," the employee said to whoever was behind Richie, bandage in tow as he made his way back over. "Here you go! One bandaid."

 

"Why, thank you, kind sir," he said in a tired British voice, taking the bandaid and shuffling off to the side.

 

"Richie?"

 

He looked up from where he was trying to peel the bandage open, and it slipped from between his fingers.

 

Eddie Kaspbrak looked back at him with furrowed eyebrows, a soft smile, and two perfectly functional arms attached to his torso. Arms that were full of the most bags Richie had ever seen on a person for such a short stay. The glittering band of metal still shimmered tauntingly, but it was the least of Richie's worries looking at this man right now.

"E-Eddie?" Richie asked, hardly aware of how faint his voice sounded. "Eddie?"

 

"Stop stuttering, you sound like Bill," the man snidely remarked, putting down his luggage and walking up to the desk. Richie watched him with shocked eyes and a racing heart.

 

What the actual fuck.

 

While Eddie checked in, Richie found himself having a reality check. Had Eddie not just died tragically in front of him only a few hours previously? Had that entire night never even happened? He had to call someone. There had to be some sort of trickery going on here.

 

Eddie was struggling to carry his bags over to the stairs. Richie hurried over and grabbed two, a duffel bag and a suitcase, hauling them up quickly.

 

"Thanks!" Eddie called from behind him.

 

"Sure thing," Richie said without looking back. He walked over to the room next to his and dropped the things, waiting for the brunet to catch up.

 

"How'd you know this was my room?" He laughed nervously, fumbling with the key and unlocking the door. Richie felt his face go white.

 

"Lucky guess?" He offered. Eddie seemed satisfied, and just smiled a little wider, dragging his haul into the room and turning on the light.

 

"I never thought I'd come back here," he admitted, turning around to face Richie, who remained standing in the doorway, staring at him with tear-filled eyes. "Are you okay, Rich?"

 

"Yeah, I—" Richie tore his gaze away and sniffled, scratching the back of his neck and taking a deep breath. "Yeah. I just— I had a really... crazy dream last night. We were all here, and we were getting ready to fight It, and you..." he trailed off, unprepared to finish the sentence. But Eddie seemed to get the gist. His expression softened, and he freed up his arms, taking a few steps closer.

 

"You're this messed up over something like that?" He asked. Richie frowned.

 

"Of course I'm fucking messed up over that, Eddie. I watched my—" He pinched his brow and close his eyes tightly. "I watched my best friend die right in front of me. And you wanna know what your last words were?"

 

"Not really, no," Eddie told him, expression growing more serious. "Especially not if this is somehow related to what's going to happen later. It might already be fucking with us, 'Chee."

 

God, that was a nickname Richie hadn't heard in years.

 

"Yeah, no, I know," Richie breathed, letting his arms drop to his sides. "I'm sorry I'm being so weird. It was probably just a nightmare."

 

"Me dying is a nightmare to you?" Eddie teased, and Richie could see his smirk sneaking back onto his face.

 

Richie snorted, biting his lip to conceal his smile. "Shut up, Kaspbrak. You know it would be."

 

"Richie... You're sweeter than you used to be." The words sent a shock down Richie's spine. He shuddered, eyes widening. Eddie seemed to notice the reaction. "Are you sure you're okay, 'Chee?"

 

"Yes," he forced out, straightening up and shaking his head. "Yeah. I'm fine. It's good to see you, Eds."

 

"It's good to see you, too," the man said, cheeks becoming a dusty pink color. Richie tried not to look too far into it, but he did allow himself the liberty of crossing the space between them in tow large steps and pulling the man into a firm, secure hug. Eddie's arms wrapped themselves around Richie's back, and the taller man gathered him up very tightly, pressing his face into his shoulder.

 

"My phone is ringing," Eddie murmured against Richie's chest after a minute.

 

"Let it," Richie grunted, unwilling to let go.

 

"What if it's Mike?"

 

"He can suck my big fat di—"

 

"'Chee..." His voice held an exasperated tone, and Richie knew he had pushed it to the limit.

 

"Fine." He let go, immediately regretting the loss, and examined the splinter that remained in his hand, watching Eddie take out his phone and check the caller I.D.

 

"Hey, Mikey!" The man greeted. There was a low buzz from the other end, and Eddie laughed. Richie's heart skipped a beat at the sound, and for a moment, he couldn't help but just step back and marvel at his childhood best friend. Eddie bit the tip of his thumb and looked over at Richie, smiling. "Yeah! I'm with Richie, we can head over now if you want." He nodded a few times, made a few noises of confirmation, then bade Mike goodbye.

 

"We headed over to the library?" Richie asked. The vivid events of his own nightmare were starting to fade— he looked at Eddie, and for a split second, he saw the blood-soaked, hopeful face of a dying man. But then Eddie came closer, bumped their shoulders together and looked up at him through his lashes.

 

"If you'll walk me there," he said, grinning.

 

"Bold request from a married man," Richie pointed out, gesturing to Eddie's ring. The brunet looked down at it, then back up at him with defensive eyes.

 

"I love my wife," he said firmly, and Richie threw his hands up.

 

"I didn't say you don't," he replied, eyebrows raised. "I was just teasing, Eds."

 

"Oh.." the brunet's shoulders seemed to relax. "Right. Well, it wasn't funny."

 

"Right, and neither am I," Richie said, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

"Shut up, Richie. Are you gonna walk me there or not?"

 

Richie grinned. He held the door open, led his friend outside, and walked him to the library with a giddy feeling and a skip in his step. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Along the way, Eddie has stopped and taken the splinter out of Richie's hand. He dug around in his little fanny pack, and Richie struggled not to think too hard about the fact that Eddie looked exactly like he had in the dream, outfit and all.

 

It might already be fucking with us, 'Chee.

 

Of course. That had to be it. There was no way any of that had actually happened— Henry Bowers had fallen into a fucking abyss, after all. Nobody could have survived that— and even if he did, he had to have broken every bone in his body. Nowhere to go then. No way to climb back out.

 

The thought was comforting. The thought that perhaps Stanley's death had been a figment of his imagination also eased his nerves— he almost shared the aspect of the nightmare with Eddie, then decided against it. After all, Stan was one of Eddie's closer friends in their small group.

 

"I wanna look in the gift shop," Eddie said as they approached the library.

 

"Why would you want to do that?" Richie asked. "I don't want anything to remember this place by later."

 

"I know, it's just... I never looked in it before, you know? I only came here a few times with my Ma and she would never let me."

 

Richie held the door for Eddie, who made a face at him as he walked by, and then led him over to the small corner of souvenirs. He watched Eddie shuffle around a bit, peering at the deflated balloons and the sweatshirts that read the same as always: 'I ❤️ Derry'.

 

"Hey, Rich, this is like the shirts that you used to wear!" Eddie called from across the shop. Richie's neck cricked, he turned his head so fast. Rubbing at it with a pained expression, he made his way over and observed with an uneasy stomach that Eddie was right.

 

"It was kind of mixed in with everything else at the back," the man explained, smiling as he held it up. "Kinda weird, right? It's exactly your size."

 

"Yeah," Richie said, setting his lips and taking it gingerly. The pattern was different than the one from his dream. Coincidence, maybe! If Eddie was right about the nightmare being the work of It then of course some things might parallel— nothing to be worried about.

 

"Hey," Eddie murmured, pulling the hanger back with the shirt on it. "It's on me. Anything to make you look like as much of a dork as you were back in the day." He winked, and before Richie could protest, he scurried over to the counter and bought it.

 

"Now, put it on," Eddie insisted once he came back over, from broadening. "Come on, just do it." Richie sighed dramatically.

 

"Anything for you, my love," he droned, placing a hand over his heart. Eddie snorted and rolled his eyes, but his cheeks were turning pink. Richie tore his gaze away.

 

That doesn't mean anything.

 

He took the shirt and slid it over his shoulders, slipping his arms through their designated holes. It fluttered stiffly around his frame. He held his arms out.

 

"Ta-da!" He grinned. "I think I look rather dashing, wouldn't you say, Eds?"

 

"Ew, don't do the British guy," Eddie complained, wrinkling his nose. "It was bad enough when you did it to that poor guy back at the townhouse."

 

"Pip pip, and tally-ho, my good fellow!" Richie cheered more insistently, linking his arm with Eddie's and dragging him out of the gift shop. "A dear comrade of mine awaits our prompt arrival!"

 

"You are unbelievable," Eddie told him firmly, but followed as Richie made his way across the library.

 

Nobody was at the front desk. Richie dinged the service bell once, twice, and wound up for a third, much more obnoxious time, only for Eddie to grab his wrist and give him a warning look.

 

"Beep-beep, 'Chee. This is a fucking library."

 

"Sorry, Spaghetti," Richie sighed. "I just couldn't help myself." The smaller man scoffed disbelievingly. A moment later, a familiar face came wandering out of a back room.

 

"How did I know it would be you?" Mike asked, smiling.

 

"I don't know, Mikey, how did you know it was us?" Richie asked snidely.

 

"It couldn't have possibly been the fact that you nearly broke my bell, could it?" He replied.

 

"Hi Mike," Eddie piped up much more softly, a shy smile spreading across his face. "It's been a while."

 

"It sure has," Mike agreed. "Twenty-seven years." There was an uneasy silence. He shuffled his feet and looked at the ground, then at his watch, and finally back at the first two arrivals. "But let's save the serious stuff for later. I'm finishing up my shift now, then we're heading over to meet the others at this new restaurant."

 

"There are new things in Derry?" Eddie asked raising his eyebrows.

 

"You'd be surprised," Mike said, heading around the side of the desk. "Most things have gone to shit. The arcade and the Aladdin are busted. Nobody goes there anymore."

 

"What?!" Richie demanded, though he had already had a sneaking suspicion that those would remain the same as well. "You mean we can't catch a flick before fighting this motherfucker? Man, what a fucking let down, am I right, Eds?"

 

"Beep-beep, Trashmouth," Eddie silenced him with a stern look.

 

"I forgot about the beeping!" Mike said. They gradually moved towards the front doors and out into the street. "We used to beep you all the time."

 

"He didn't know when to shut up," Eddie snarked.

 

"Hey!" Richie exclaimed. "At least I wasn't boring."

 

"I beg to differ," Eddie disagreed, shaking his head. Mike laughed.

 

Richie smiles at his friends and they started walking. He had a good feeling about this time around.

 

Maybe, this time, everyone would come out of it alive. 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Once everyone but Stan has arrived and several minutes had passed, Richie had started to lose his appetite. Something didn't feel right.

 

Flambé and beeping aside, Richie has begun to quiet down. Eddie had once again let Richie sit next to him, but this time, the brunet was the one who had scooted closer. Their shoulders brushed, and Eddie shivered. It was like clockwork. Richie draped his sweatshirt over Eddie's shoulders casually, nodding along with whatever Bev was talking about. The brunet pulled the hoodie over his head quietly, and it seemed that nobody noticed— if they did, they paid no mind.

 

"So what do you do for work, Eds?" Richie asked, leaning back so the legs of his chair lifted in the front. Hands covered by the ends of long hoodie sleeves gripped the seat of his chair, acting as a safety net.

 

"I own a very successful limousine company in New York," he said. "It's not just limousines, but most of the people we drive are higher-class citizens. So, we've got more of them than we do anything else. We get lots of rentals for prom rides during the school year." He shrugged, smiling. "It might not seem like a big deal to you guys, but it's really nice to see the kids so happy. You know, all dressed up, having fun."

 

"We went to prom together, didn't we?" Richie asked suddenly. "Senior year. As a group. We all went, no?"

 

"N-No," Bill said. "We didn't. Nuh-Nuh-None of us wanted to g-g-g-go. Suh-So we set up a little g-get together, juh-juh-just us."

 

"That's right!" Bev gasped. "Oh my God, we had so much fun that night. We got dressed up all fancy and spent the whole night in the clubhouse. There was mud all over my dress by the time I got home!" She laughed, covering her mouth.

 

"Right!" Mike said, nodding. "And Richie was the only one who wasn't wearing a suit."

 

"Really?" Richie asked, grinning.

 

"Oh, yeah," Ben nodded. "Eddie was pissed."

 

"We were supposed to dress nice!" Eddie protested. "I was pissed because he broke the dress code."

 

"You're just pissed because we didn't match," Richie taunted. "Besides, there was no real dress code. You just made that up."

 

"There was!" He argued. "We all agreed to wear suits and ties. It was supposed to be our own dance."

 

"I was DJing!" Richie pointed out.

 

"You played music on your walkman," Eddie shot back, rolling his eyes. "All you had to do was switch the tape every forty-five minutes or so."

 

"I commend Richie for marching to the best of his own drum and wearing what he wanted," Bev announced.

 

"Thank you!" Richie said, throwing his arms up. His chair started to wobble, and Eddie gave a hard shove to the seat of it, causing the legs to slam back down. "Oh, Eds. What would I do without you?"

 

"Apparently never grow up," the brunet grumbled, but he was smiling. "Remember when Stan switched Richie's music out for some really slow songs and tried to get everyone dancing with each other?"

 

"Oh, of course!" Bev laughed. "He really swept Bill off his feet that night, huh, Billy?"

 

Bill's cheeks became red and he looked down at the table to hide his grin. "Sure d-did. Buh-But Richie was the o-one who choked."

 

"I did not," Richie said, she's widening. "Did I?"

 

"You did, Rich," Mike said. "You watched Eddie all night. Never asked him to dance."

 

Now both men were almost as red as Bill, avoiding each other's gazes. Richie bit the inside of his cheek, scratching the back of his neck and exhaling slowly. An awkward silence stretched out and Richie took a sip of his drink, shaking his head.

 

"So where is Stan, anyway?" Ben asked after a few moments. Richie's stomach twisted and he tried not to think of the worst, closing his eyes and pinching his brow.

 

"He... couldn't make it," Mike said hesitantly.

 

"He's dead, isn't he?" Richie asked, opening his eyes and resting his chin on the palm of his hand. "When did it happen?"

 

"Last night," Mike confirmed, brows furrowing. "How did you—"

 

"I had a dream," Richie answered before the question even came all the way out. "This is going to sound crazy," he realized, laughing humorlessly. "I had a dream last night," he started again. "Only... It didn't feel like a dream. It felt real. It was this day, and everything was the same. This shirt was in the gift shop at the library which doesn't sell this kind of shirt. Eddie was married. Ben got skinny, and Stan killed himself in the bathtub the night before." Everyone's gazes shifted around the table, fear and discomfort seeping into their expressions. Richie took a deep breath and continued.

 

"I would like to believe that the fucker Pennywise was just fucking with me and it won't all end the same. Because if it does, I don't think I'll be able to live with myself." He presses his fingers to his mouth, struggling to gain control of his erratically beating heart. "I can't live with myself if I have to watch anyone die again."

 

Bev was looking at him with horrified eyes. Richie looked right back, and he knew that they were thinking similar things. She got up very suddenly, and he could see her shoulders shaking— her entire body shaking.

 

"I need to talk to you," she managed to force out. He started to get up, but a hand grabbed his wrist. He looked down at Eddie, who was pale and terrified. He hesitated, smiled reassuringly, and pulled away, walking out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk. He pulled Bev aside.

 

"You saw all of it," he said, speaking so quickly that it sounded more like 'yuhsawall'veit'. "You knew Stanley killed himself that day when we made the oath. Do you know about—"

 

"Richie, Eddie dies today." She had tears in her eyes. Her lower lip wobbled dangerously. Richie felt like all of the air had been sucked from his lungs.

 

"What?" He whispered, voice trembling. "I—"

 

"I'm sorry!" She blurted, tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks. "I just couldn't not tell anyone, and you seemed to know too— I thought maybe we could do something—"

 

"Beverly," Richie said, breaths coming in shuddering gasps. "Beverly, I already watched him die once in my dream last night. I know how it happens— I might be able to stop it, I— I can't let it happen again—"

 

"I don't know if we can, Richie!" She was nearing hysterics.

 

"Well what if I watch it happen again, and then I wake up again tomorrow and have to watch it all over again, huh?" Richie asked, volume rising. "What then, Bev? What if I have to watch my best friend die over and over again for the rest of my life? What if I can never save him? What if one of these times, I actually work up the courage to tell him that I—" He broke off, rubbing his temples.

 

"Tell him, Richie," Bev said, sniffling. "Because at least then, no matter what happens, he'll know."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," Richie said, voice wavering.

 

They don't know. They don't know. They don't know.

 

"Yes you do," she insisted. "You love him, Richie."

 

And somehow, hearing it was so much harder than keeping it a secret. He felt like his heart was going to burst from his chest. He could hardly breathe. A million memories flashed through his mind.

 

A warm body pressed much too close to his in a hammock.

 

A carving on a bridge.

 

A hand brushing his cheek.

 

A bright and beautiful smile.

 

"I can't," he gasped. "I can't."

 

"Do you want to go the rest of your life without telling him?" She demanded.

 

"He's married, Bev!" He protested. "He never cared about me that way!"

 

"Richie, you are blind, glasses or not," she snarled. "Just look at him. Do you see the way he looks at you? Back in the day, you should have seen how upset he was when you didn't ask him to dance the night of prom. All he wanted was for you to give him the time of day. You know how scared he was of confronting those sort of feelings!"

 

"How do I know it's not too late?" He asked weakly.

 

"You tell him," she replied coldly, wiping her eyes carefully and sniffling again.

 

"And what you get is what you get." 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Walking back to their table, Richie pondered what Beverly has said. Had he regretted not telling Eddie when he died in the dream? He couldn't really remember. He hadn't had much time to really consider anything before he woke up again.

 

Did he regret not telling Eddie when they were kids? This one was much easier.

 

Hell no.

 

They had grown up in the 80s. Gay was one of the worst things to be during that time. God knows what Sonia would have thought of it if she had found out, and if that wasn't enough to straightwash Eddie, then consider— God knows what society would have thought if they found out.

 

It was enough to straightwash Richie— at least, outwardly. He'd dated a few girls in his day. None of them were what he was looking for.

 

They walked into a room of suspicious Losers. All of them were staring. Bev froze in her tracks and fidgeted uncomfortably. Richie frowned deeply.

 

"I see we were sorely missed," he observed, placing a hand over his heart. Bill cracked a smile, though a hesitant one. "We didn't mean to rush out on you guys. Don't look so scared! Just girl-talk, you know?"

 

"Well, we all know Richie's got one hell of a love life," Mike said, and Ben snickered.

 

"Shut up," Richie grumbled, turning pink. "I've had a few girlfriends."

 

"Girlfriends?" Bill asked. Richie didn't like how surprised he sounded. He sneaked a glance at Eddie and saw the man gripping the arms of his chair tightly, expression unreadable.

 

"Ha, uh... Yeah, Big Bill," Richie forced, scratching the back of his neck. "Girlfriends. Why?"

 

"Why?" Bill repeated, his confusion only seeming to grow. "I th-thought you liked Eh-Eh—"

 

"Okay!" Richie spoke up loudly, cutting the man off abruptly. "What's next on the agenda? It's back and we're here to fight it. What do we have to do?"

 

"Wait," Mike said, and Richie winced. "Backtrack a little. You were talking about a dream you had. Did this all happen in it?"

 

"Oddly enough, no," Richie said, beginning to grow impatient. "But I hadn't lived through it yet in the dream, so I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone about it, which means I wouldn't have been able to have this conversation with any of you. Anyway..." He made a 'move-it-along' gesture with his hands, raising his eyebrows.

 

"Why are you getting so defensive?" Eddie accused, speaking for the first time since Richie and Bev returned.

 

"I'm not!" Richie protested, eyes widening.

 

"You kinda are," Ben said.

 

"Yeah," Eddie agreed. "You're hiding something. And who was Bill talking about? Have you guys talked since we all left Derry? How does he know who you like? And why don't know? I'm supposed to be your best friend." Richie hated how upset the man looked. His heart cracked a little, and he looked at Bev, who watched expectantly.

 

"You gonna tell him, Rich? Or should I?" She asked patiently. Richie could feel his face become bright red. He stood there for a moment, sputtering, face getting hotter and hotter. Eddie watched him, lips pursed.

 

"I'm gay," he blurted out.

 

"And?" Beverly asked, quirking a brow.

 

"You knew?" Eddie shrieked. Richie winced. "Why do they all know things about you that I don't?"

 

"Because I was terrified that you would hate me!" Richie shouted. "I was terrified that in a society where being gay is a social crime, you would all hate me for it! And my crush is a guy. So there. That's why, Eds. Happy?"

 

"No," Eddie grumbled. Richie folded his arms over his chest, looking down at his feet.

 

"Whatever. I don't need you to be happy for me. I don't care."

 

"Whatever, then."

 

"Fine."

 

Richie bit his lip, tapping his foot and wishing he were anywhere else in the world.

 

"So...." Ben spoke, shattering the silence. "Mike, what are we supposed to do now?"

 

"Well, I was going to have everyone split up and go somewhere that used to be important to them," Mike said slowly, still eyeing the two who had fought. "I need you all to remember everything on your own. I know alone isn't the safest, but I think it's how it needs to be. So... If you want to all go ahead, I'll pay the bill. My lunch break is almost over. Meet me at the library tonight. If you're late, knock."

 

Richie took a deep breath, turned, and walked out without another word.

 

For the first time since he had woken up this morning, he wished that maybe after it was all over he would wake up and be able to try again once more. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Richie hated when Eddie was mad at him.

 

All he had done was gone to the arcade instead of meeting up with everyone at the quarry— once. It wasn't like they didn't have the entire rest of the summer.

 

Then again, after the events of the day, Richie had to admit that he was a little miffed that he hadn't just spent the day with his friends instead of spending his money only to be called derogatory terms by the town bully, then chased through the park by a ferocious statue wielding a giant axe and the sharpest teeth in all the land.

 

When he got to the clubhouse, Eddie glared at him the whole way down the ladder.

 

"Hey Eds, why don't you take a picture? Then you can shove it up your ass with the stick that's already lodged so far up there."

 

Okay. Admittedly not his best greeting. But he was pissed, and he was tired, and he was terrified. Not a good combination. Silence had settled upon the Losers, and Eddie almost looked like he could just about explode.

 

"I'm sorr—"

 

"Get out, Richie," Eddie said, eyes cold as ice. Richie's stomach dropped. He stared at the brunet for a second, mouth open slightly.

 

"Get out!" Eddie repeated, louder this time. Richie flinched, turned, and started to climb. He shut the hatch gently and started walking.

 

"Richie!" Bev's voice floated after him, but he ignored her, breaking into a run. "Richie, wait!"

 

When he reached the tree line, he broke through it and sped up, the slapping of his sneakers against the asphalt ringing in his ears.

 

The sun had almost set. The world had turned orange. Richie sniffled a little bit, turning a corner and nearly running into somebody. He shoved past them with a wavering apology and kept going, wiping the tears out of his eyes before they could fall and waiting to see where his feet would carry him.

 

It wasn't fair. He had a shitty day and it wasn't his fault that Eddie had to be pissy with him over the little things. It wasn't fair that Eddie got to kick Richie out of his place of comfort when he knew he had nowhere else to go.

 

Richie tore out of the busiest part of town into the part that was almost always deserted, and finally a few tears spilled over his cheeks. He stopped on the sidewalk and wiped them away, tears of all the fear, humiliation and heartbreak mixing into one messy sob. Feet dragging, he continued forward, trying to keep up with the steady flow that was blurring his vision. He kicked a stone along the way, trying to keep it on the sidewalk so he didn't have to go into the street.

 

When he had reached the end of the sidewalk, he gave it one more mighty kick. It hit the outer edge of his shoe and skittered over to his right and across the street. Richie watched it go, looking up and sniffling. He wiped the drying tears from his cheeks and observed his surroundings.

 

He was at the kissing bridge.

 

Heart leaping into his throat, Richie looked both ways and crossed over to the well-known area where everybody carved the initials of their lovers into the wood. A knife stuck out at the end of an 'M' that was preceded by a 'C'— He wondered who left it there. Perhaps it was a Charlie and a Marlene— Or, better yet, a Cathy and a Michael. Or maybe, Richie thought with a sinking feeling in his stomach, because they didn't write their full names, it's a Chris and a Mark, but they just didn't want anybody to know it was them.

 

Richie pondered this, and took hold of the handle, tugging the blade out of the wood. He found an empty space and crouched down, touching the space lightly, brushing his fingers across the surface.

 

"Ouch!" He hissed, drawing his hand away and looking down. He had gotten a splinter. He cursed himself under his breath and shook his hand vigorously, sticking his finger into his mouth. He examined it closely and squeezed the bit of wood out carefully, scowling when it began to bleed.

 

"Stupid splinters, stupid blood, stupid uses for bandaids," he grumbled, letting his head fall forward and hit the side of the bridge. "Stupid Eddie, who probably has some. Stupid me, always needing him. Stupid me, always wanting to be around him. Stupid me, lo—" He broke off and took a deep breath, closing his eyes.

 

He stabbed the blade into the wood and dragged it downwards, frowning deeply and working the letters into the wood as best he could. Two letters, that's all it took. Two letters, just like the 'M' and the 'C' a few feet down from his. Richie picked away the excess chips, careful not to get another splinter. He admired his work, and then stood up, brushing off his pants.

 

It was a long trek home and Richie didn't want to make it. The walk to the quarry was longer, but Richie really didn't want to see anyone who would make a shitty day shittier so he sucked it up and made the long journey there on foot. He walked through the trees, making a wide arc around the clubhouse. He thought he heard voices a few times, but they faded the further away he got. When he saw the drop off in the distance, he slowed.

 

Someone was sitting at the edge.

 

Brown hair and a polo like that couldn't only belong to one person.

 

Richie stopped immediately and considered turning back. His heart was starting to beat erratically and he couldn't banish the night's events from his mind. His thoughts slipped back to the kissing bridge and he nearly choked on air, breath hitching and face going red. Eddie turned his head and their eyes met.

 

"What are you doing here?" The boy asked, and even from a few yards away Richie could hear the bitterness in his tone. He looked down and shuffled his feet.

 

"I just... Didn't want to go home yet, I guess. I'll go." He started to turn, shaking his head. Clearly he wasn't wanted.

 

"Wait!" Eddie called. Richie paused and looked back to see the boy getting up. He turned around again and watched Eddie approach him slowly. He didn't dare get his hopes up. Eddie looked at him, brows furrowed, and got close enough that Richie could almost feel the warmth of the other boy's body against his own.

 

"I'm sorry," Richie mumbled. "I wasn't thinking about how you would all feel if I didn't go with you today. I ended up having a shitty day anyway, so I guess I wish I had stayed after all."

 

"I guess it's okay," Eddie said, looking up through his lashes. "But I wish I got to spend the day with you. I feel like you're always going to the arcade lately. You never have time for us."

 

"That's not true!" Richie protested, instinctively reaching out and grabbing Eddie's wrist. He froze, cheeks getting hot, and let go hastily. "I— I mean, it is true," he admitted. "But it's not because I don't want to hang out with you guys."

 

"It's because you're hiding something," Eddie started sourly, looking down at his feet. Richie drew in a shuddering breath, and Eddie looked back up very suddenly, concern in his eyes. "Are you okay, 'Chee? It can't be that bad, can it?"

 

They don't know. They don't know. They don't know.

 

"I'm fine," he said faintly. "I'm not hiding anything."

 

"I know you, Richie," Eddie said with a doubtful look. "Whatever it is, you can tell me. We're best friends, you know."

 

"I know," Richie said, looking down at the finger that had gotten a splinter. Eddie followed his gaze and tensed.

 

"You're hurt," he realized, grabbing Richie's hand. Richie's heart skipped a beat as Eddie examined it closely and then shifted through his fanny pack, pulling out a bandaid. "Why didn't you say something?"

 

"It doesn't hurt," Richie supplied, watching hopelessly as Eddie wrapped the bandage around his finger. Richie really thought he might pass out when the boy glanced up at the darkening sky, back down at Richie with a small smile, then dipped his head and placed a gentle kiss on the tip of his injured finger.

 

"I gotta go," the brunet said, and Richie bit back a protest, though it wasn't hard. He felt like his face was on fire. He was pretty sure he couldn't speak if he tried. So he just shrugged and nodded at the same time. Eddie still didn't move, gripping Richie's hand tightly. He almost looked expectant. Richie acted without really thinking. He pulled the boy closer and placed a little peck on his nose, then finally found his voice.

 

"You are a cutie, Eddie Spaghetti. Thanks for playing doctor with me. Tell your mother I send her all of my love." He grinned, watching the brunet, who, mind anybody who asks, had bright red cheeks and a huge smile on his face.

 

"Beep-beep, asshole. Don't bother walking me home or anything."

 

"I live in the opposite direction," Richie pointed out, raising his eyebrows.

 

"And?" Eddie asked, blushing a bit deeper. "I'm asking you to walk with me. You gonna say yes, or not?"

 

Richie did, and if it took him an extra hour to get home because they had some good chucks along the way, then who was he to complain? 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Reliving memories like that was easier than reliving the ones that had terrorized his nightmare. Richie had discovered that upon choosing the Kissing Bridge as his destination just to switch things up, keep it fresh, change the course of events. He couldn't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe Eddie would be at the quarry if he went there right now.

 

So he walked, and he walked, and he walked until he felt like his feet were going to fall off. It was harder to go longer distances now that he felt old.

 

When he finally arrived, he wasn't surprised, but disappointed to see that Eddie was not there. But he walked down to the edge of the cliff anyway, kicked off his shoes, and sat, dangling his legs and looking down at the water.

 

It was late afternoon and the sun beat down on his back mercilessly, but Richie felt chilly despite the fact that he knew he was sweating. He shoved his hands into his pockets and swung his legs a bit more before feeling around and freezing up completely. His fingers struck a hard object in his right pocket. He pulled it out and after getting a brief glimpse it tumbled from his hand and plummeted into the water below.

 

The token from the arcade.

 

"Stop fucking with me!" He shouted into the void, rubbing his hands together and clenching his fists anxiously. He pulled his knees up to his chest and closed his eyes, hugging his legs tightly. Something seemed off. He checked his watch and decided that he had definitely spent the same amount of time as he had in the dream— although, why he was still comparing, he wasn't sure.

 

Richie got to his feet and groaned in pain as he straightened his back, listening to the cracks and pops of each vertebrae as they settled back into place. "I'm old," he complained to the empty forest, scowling as he picked up his shoes.

 

"You sure are, Richie. And all your friends are, too."

 

The voice was not one Richie had been counting on hearing this early in the day. He turned very slowly to see the clown standing in the trees, grinning at him with drool dripping from its mouth and chin. He held no balloons in his hands, there was no blood on his face, and he didn't seem to be in any hurry to skedaddle on out of there.

 

"What do you want from me?" Richie growled. "The fuck are you trying to do? Haunting my dreams with shit like that?"

 

"Oh, it was no dream, Tozier," It replied, chuckling lowly with a sinister glint in those horrible blue eyes. "It was aaaaaaall for real! That Eds of yours has already died once, yes he has! And if you don't do something about it..." It's expression morphed from one of horrendous glee to a blank, chilling stare. "It's gonna happen again."

 

"No." Richie shook his head, wiping his hands on his pants. "No, it won't."

 

"Yes!" The clown shrieked, followed by a maniacal series of giggles and choked gasps. "Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again—"

 

"Stop!" Richie screamed. "Stop it! Get the hell away from me and don't you dare fucking touch him."

 

"One down, eight to go!" It laughed again, head beginning to shrink. Fur sprouted from it's face and the red hair shrank into pointed ears. It's pupils thinned into slits and its nose got smaller, more upturned. It morphed and changed until the face of a cat stared back at him, only recognizable by the vast, icy blueness of It's eyes.

 

"Fuck off!" Richie shouted for what felt like the hundredth time. He lobbed one of his shoes at the thing, and it hissed, flashing fangs the size of his pointer finger— then it was gone. Richie was breathing heavily, heart racing, blood roaring in his ears. He had to find his shoe.

 

Why a cat? He couldn't stop wondering. He wasn't afraid of cats. Maybe It had mixed him up with someone else? He pondered it the entire way back to the townhouse and speculated that it simply couldn't be true— It was an almost-all-knowing being. When it came to fear, the monster didn't mix things up unless it was with good reason. Richie stepped into the building where he was staying and was met by chaos.

 

Clear blue eyes filled with blank terror found him in the doorway, and Beverly screamed, "It's Henry! He got Eddie!" 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

As Richie was thrown mentally backwards into a storm of confusion and terror, he was dragged forward and into the side room where Eddie was sitting in a chair with a needle and thread in his cheek and a make-shift splint on his arm.

 

"What the fuck, Bill?!" Richie shouted.

 

"I duh-duh-don't know what happened!" Bill shouted back, focusing intently on threading up Eddie's bleeding cheek.

 

"Bowers is getting away!" Ben roared from the door, still open as Richie had left it. "We have to get to Mike before he does!"

 

"I'll go with him!" Bev volunteered, running for the door.

 

"Muh-Me too! Richie, take c-c-c-care of Eh-Eddie. P-Put a bandage on h-h-his cheek!" Bill cut the stitches as close to the knot as he safely could and thundered after the other two Losers, slamming the door shut behind him. Richie stood there in silence for a moment, shocked and appalled at how quickly everything had just happened right in front of him.

 

"Eddie," he said breathlessly, eyes practically popping out of his head, "what the fuck?"

 

"Bowers," was all he said, slumping back miserably in his chair. Richie looked around at the medical supplies strewn across the floor and chairs and walked over, picking up one of the gauze squares.

 

Eddie eyed him warily. "Do you even know what to do here?"

 

"Yes, I know how to put a fucking gauze square on your face, Eddie," Richie snapped, tearing the package open.

 

"You have to wipe it down first!" Eddie said back. "I don't want any fucking germs on my face."

 

"You're ridiculous," Richie muttered, but he grabbed the sterilizing wipes and pulled one out, pulling Bill's chair closer to Eddie's. "I don't want to hurt you."

 

"You're fine," Eddie said, reaching over and grabbing Richie's wrist tightly. "Just be gentle." He guided Richie's hand up to his cheek, and Richie dabbed at the freshly closed wound carefully, holding his breath. Eddie bit his lip and sucked in a breath. Richie jerked his hand away but Eddie's fingers just tightened around his wrist. "Don't," the brunet said. "You're okay. Just make sure the area that'll be covered by gauze is clean, okay?"

 

Richie did his best. He tried not to shy away when Eddie made little noises of pain, just lightened the pressure and dabbed until he was sure it was enough. Then he took the gauze and pressed it carefully to Eddie's skin.

 

"Hold that in place," he mumbled. Eddie complied and held the gauze while Richie pulled medical tape off of the roll and stuck it to the man's cheek, securing the makeshift bandage.

 

"Good?" Eddie asked, not turning his head.

 

"Good," Richie agreed. "Looks like sometimes even the doctor needs a checkup." Eddie started to laugh, then grimaced, hand flying up to his face. Richie reached out instinctively, fingers brushing against his shoulder.

 

"I'm okay," Eddie said after a moment, muscles beginning to relax. "I'm okay. Sorry."

 

"Don't apologize," Richie said. Their chairs were pressed so close that their knees knocked against each other's. Eddie finally turned his head, and when his nose bumped Richie's, the curly-haired man jerked away, blushing furiously.

 

"Sorry," he blurted, covering his nose with a hand. "Sorry." Eddie's cheek— the one that was still visible— was also glowing a dusty pink color.

 

"It's okay, 'Chee," the man mumbled. "Don't worry about it."

 

"Okay," Richie said, wiping his palms on his jeans. "Sorry."

 

"So..." Eddie trailed off, eyebrows beginning to rise. "Do you wanna talk about the conversation we had earlier? At the restaurant?"

 

Richie's heart sank and he averted his eyes, scratching the back of his neck. "Not really..."

 

"Well, I do, so we're going to," Eddie said very bluntly, and Richie immediately quieted down, flexing his fingers anxiously. "First of all, without yelling at me, why didn't you tell me you were gay before you told Beverly?"

 

"I didn't tell Beverly," Richie mumbled uncomfortably. "She just... figured it out and wouldn't take no for an answer. I never told any of you. You know what the 80s were like, Eds. I couldn't come out back then."

 

"We wouldn't have cared," Eddie reminded him. "All of us were Losers for a reason. We stuck together no matter what we were outcasted for."

 

"I know!" Richie rushed out. "But, it's hard, Eddie! I was afraid you would all think differently of me. You know how my parents could have reacted if they found out— I was terrified that if your mom found out she wouldn't let us be friends anymore." He curled his arms around himself and looked away, knee bouncing mindlessly. "I don't think I'd be here if I hadn't had you."

 

"Richie... You mean all of us," Eddie said, although it was more of a question. Richie finally looked at him and found sympathetic brown eyes staring right back. He swallowed with some difficulty, heart beginning to pound.

 

"No, I mean you, specifically, Eds," he grumbled. "Everyone else is great but nobody made me happy like you did. I could have the shittiest day in the world and if I happened to see you, and you happened to yell at me for some reason or other, the day always turned around. It didn't matter what you did. You could have been mad because of a joke, or something I said, or something I did, and as long as you paid attention to me it was okay."

 

"You attention whore," Eddie snarked, but he was smiling as best he could without irritating his cheek.

 

"Says the one who climbed into a hammock with me and shoved his feet in my face when I didn't talk to him," Richie retorted, and Eddie's eyes lit up.

 

"I forgot about that!" He laughed. "The hammock. Oh, God. Those were the days, huh, Rich?"

 

"Sure were, Eds," he said, ignoring the face his friend made when he heard the nickname.

 

"I didn't know I meant that much to you," Eddie continued carefully, eyeing Richie from his seat. "I didn't know I made you that happy."

 

"Of course you made me that happy," Richie scoffed. "You're... You were you, Spaghetti, Eds, you name it. Everything you did was some kind of perfect."

 

"Hah!" Eddie laughed, shaking his head. "Sure. What kind of perfect is that?"

 

"My kind of perfect," Richie said before he could stop himself. Eddie started at him with a look of wonder in his eyes. "I mean—"

 

"Don't you dare take that back," Eddie interrupted. "Don't you dare take that back, Richie Tozier." So he shut his mouth and Eddie marveled at him, smiling wide enough that surely it must be hurting him at this point. "Your kind of perfect, huh? What did I do that was your kind of perfect?"

 

"Worried about things so that I didn't have to." Richie hardly hesitated, and he was starting to smile bashfully himself as he rattled off the list that he had been preparing in his head ever since he was younger. "Kept me in my place. Cute as a button." Eddie's nose wrinkled at that as well, but Richie pressed on. "You had the most contagious smile, Eds. Even if it was a small one. I just had to smile back. And God, was your laugh adorable. I would hear it sometimes on my way to the clubhouse, or bouncing off the cliffs at the quarry, and it was unbelievable."

 

"That's enough!" Eddie said, and his cheeks were so red that Richie was worried he was turning into a tomato. "Jesus, Rich. I never knew you thought all of that."

 

"Well, I wasn't exactly broadcasting it, was I?" He pointed out.

 

"Sure you were. You said I was cute and pinched my cheeks all the time," Eddie said, fingertips brushing his own crimson face. "I just never knew you really meant it."

 

"I was kind of counting on that," Richie admitted. "I didn't really know... I didn't know how to say it seriously. I didn't know if I wanted to say it seriously. I was so scared you'd hate me if you knew I thought things like that."

 

"Why would I have hated you?" Eddie asked, brows furrowing. "I would have been flattered."

 

"Because you would have totally thought I was crushing on you," Richie said, looking away.

 

"Were you?" Came the soft response, and Richie's shoulders tensed up. He stood rather abruptly and turned away, rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles, a habit he had never quite outgrown. "Rich?" Eddie asked, concern walking into his tone.

 

"Yeah?" He said, spinning around. "What? I mean— no! I mean—" Richie rubbed his eyes under his glasses and took a deep breath. "Okay, maybe. Just a little."

 

"Oh my God," Eddie said, and Richie could hear the impending laughter. "You had a crush on me back in the day? Me? For real?"

 

"Shut up, Eddie, it's not funny," Richie mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.

 

"Sure it is!" Eddie replied. "It's fucking hilarious. Why the hell would someone like you have a crush on someone like me?"

 

"Maybe because someone like me was insecure and had a terrible home life and being with people like you was the only thing that made them feel like anyone actually cared," Richie snapped. "Maybe because someone like me was confused, and terrified of the things he felt, and suddenly there was this grumpy little dwarf in his life who actually didn't hate him. Maybe because someone like me realized that when someone like you smiles because of him, it's the best feeling in the world, because someone like you deserves to smile. Someone like you deserves someone like, I don't know, the perfect girl. And someone like me would never tell someone like you that they were in love with them because they're terrified and someone like you deserves better anyway."

 

He finally took a breath and realized that Eddie was no longer smiling. Richie looked down at the ground and kicked at the corner of the carpet, sniffing a bit and removing one hand from his pocket to pinch his brow.

 

"People like you don't deserve people like me," Eddie mumbled. "I'm not all those things you were talking about. At least, not anymore. I got old. I married a woman I don't love because I thought I needed someone like my mom in my life and now I'm miserable. I still have this stupid aspirator even though I know I don't need it. I'm a scaredy-cat."

 

"Eddie, if I've learned anything about you since we last saw each other as kids, it's that you most certainly are still all of those things," Richie said, exasperated. "Your laugh still warms up rooms. Your smile still brightens the sky above you. You gave me a bandaid for a splinter that I had forgotten to cover up. You still care and you still worry and you still do that little thing where you fiddle with the bottom on your shirt when you get nervous." Eddie immediately dropped the fabric, blushing. Richie sighed. "You are still my kind of perfect."

 

"Then why didn't you say anything before?" Eddie demanded. "We aren't kids anymore, Rich. Times are different. It's more acceptable now. You could have told me you were gay. You could have told me you used to have a crush on me."

 

"You're married, Eddie," Richie said, throwing his arms up in the air. "What was I supposed to do, waltz in, pick you up and go down on you in my hotel room?" Now he was sure their cheeks matched in color, they were so deeply red. "It didn't matter anymore. Doesn't. The past is in the past."

 

"So you don't feel the same?" Eddie challenged. Richie hesitated, gaze drifting towards the opposite wall.

 

"Well— I just—" He struggled to find a loophole, panic beginning to settle in. His heart was going a hundred miles an hour and his thoughts were in hot pursuit. Eddie was staring at him searchingly. Richie took a deep breath and tried to calm down, straightening up and squaring his shoulders.

 

Tell him. And what you get is what you get.

 

"Eddie Kaspbrak," Richie began, voice quivering, heart screaming at him to stop, but mouth having a different idea. "I love you. I love you, and I don't deserve you. I love you, and you're a married man. I love you, and I hate myself for telling you. I love you."

 

"Thank you," Eddie said, and he looked satisfied. Richie bit down on his lip, hard, and tried not to overthink his response.

 

But he was Richie. Of course he was going to overthink it.

 

"'Thank you'?" He asked tentatively.

 

"Thank you," Eddie nodded. "For being honest with me."

 

Well, Richie found himself thinking as he fell back into an empty chair and stared at the wall, at least he doesn't hate me. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

"What the hell happened here?" Beverly asked the second she walked in. "Richie?"

 

"Why are you looking at me?!" He protested. "I didn't do anything!"

 

"Nothing happened!" Eddie said, standing up. "We just... talked." Beverly shot Richie a look at that, raising her eyebrows. He tried not to give anything away, but he had a feeling the pained smile on his face said it all. Her expression crumbled into one of sympathy.

 

"Right," she murmured. "Well... We got there in time. Mike is fine."

 

"Really?" Richie asked, sitting up very straight. "No injuries?"

 

"None," Beverly confirmed, looking at him with wide eyes. "They should be coming in any second now."

 

"And Henry?" Eddie asked, clearly hesitant. Beverly smiled grimly.

 

"Dead."

 

Eddie visibly relaxed, and soon, the sound of voices trickled into the room. Bill, Mike, and Ben paraded in, each scattering to a different spot— Bill went straight for the bar and grabbed a bottle of something Richie couldn't see the label of, Ben plopped down in a chair with a long groan, and Mike stood by Eddie's chair, looking around at all of the medical supplies with grave apprehension.

 

"Richie, I need to talk to you," Bev spoke up. "Alone."

 

"Y-You two have been tuh-tuh-talking a lot, a-a-alone," Bill accused, eyeing them both suspiciously.

 

"Shut up, Bill, don't get like that," Beverly snapped. "You know it's not like that."

 

"I juh-juh-just mean, maybe your h-hiding something," he grumbled, frowning deeply and taking a swig from the bottle. Richie got up, trudged over and took the bottle away, taking a sip himself and wincing at the burn as it went down his throat.

 

"If it were anything that concerned you, you'd know, Big Bill," he said, voice gruff due to the alcohol. Bill hesitated, and they locked gazes, sizing each other up. Finally, the other man nodded, and Richie handed the bottle back over. "Be back in a bit," he murmured, glancing around at everybody and startling when he saw Eddie looking back. Shaking his head, he went after Bev and followed her upstairs, pulling his key out of his back pocket and unlocking the door to his room. He closed it behind them and leaned against it, groaning.

 

"God, Bev, I'm so fucking stupid. I got all mushy on him and I told him. It was awful."

 

"No, that's great!" She insisted. "What did he say?"

 

"'Thank you,'" Richie said, using air quotes.

 

"Oh," Bev said, making a face.

 

"Yeah," Richie agreed dully. "'Oh'." They settled into silence and Richie crosses the room, flopping back on his bed and grunting as his back popped a little bit. "What am I supposed to do now?"

 

"Well, sometimes what you get is what you get," Bev sighed, falling back to rest beside him. Her hair tickled his cheek. He pressed the side of his face against the top of her head and frowned.

 

"But...?" He prompted. She giggled, reaching down and grabbing his hand, threading their fingers together.

 

"Oh, Richie Tozier," she laughed. "If only those glasses actually worked."

 

"What's that supposed to mean?" He complained, throwing his free arm up over his forehead.

 

"It means, you idiot, that you're too blind to see the way he fuckin' looks at you." Bev took a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of her jacket pocket and offered them to him. Richie took them without question and lit a single cancer stick, taking a long drag, and passing it to her.

 

"He's married," Richie grumbled. "Even if he did like me, I can't do that to him. He would have to go home to her and live with the fact that he cheated."

 

"Who says any of us will remember this after it's over?" Bev asked incredulously, smoke billowing from her mouth as she spoke. She handed him the cigarette and he took it, staring at the burning end with a deep crease in his forehead.

 

"Bev, you know that's wrong," he told her firmly. "Plus, what if we don't forget? What if It was the reason we didn't remember last time? It could have influenced that. If we kill It, it can't keep us from remembering it." Bev just shrugged, and Richie sighed, slamming his head against the mattress. "I just couldn't do that to him. Whether we were going to remember it, or not."

 

"You've got it bad, Tozier," she teased, taking the cigarette back.

 

"Tell me about it," he groaned. "I think I might die alone, you know."

 

"You? No way," Bev disagreed, shaking her head. "You'll find someone."

 

"I think he's my soulmate, Bev," Richie confided, staring up blankly at the ceiling. "I really do. I think that I wasn't meant to be with him and I lost my chance."

 

"Well if he's your soulmate then you've gotta be his," Bev said, making a face.

 

"Not necessarily," Richie shrugged. "Just because he's mine doesn't mean that his isn't someone else. It could be his wife."

 

I don't love my wife.

 

The statement echoed in Richie's mind and he bit his lip, allowing it to bounce around a bit. Of course, it could mean little, but it could mean a lot.

 

"Your love life sucks, Rich," she grunted, and he took the dwindling cigarette, taking a long drag.

 

"Whatever, Rogan," he replied. "I still don't know how that happened."

 

"Neither do I," she huffed. "I just... I really hate him sometimes, you know? He didn't want me to come here."

 

"He beat you?"

 

The question came out a lot more casual than he really meant it to sound, but Bev just sighed.

 

"Yeah."

 

The silence stretched out for a long time after that. Richie squeezed Beverly's hand a little and let her have the rest of the cigarette, which she butted out against the wooden bed frame. Richie sat up and pulled her into a tight embrace. She returned it, kissing his cheek lightly.

 

"You're a good guy, Richie. If I were Eddie, I would be flattered to be your soulmate." She smiled softly, head tilting, and Richie found it in him to smile back.

 

"How kind of you. I'll have to let him know." He laughed, and she giggled, and they both stood up, brushing off their pants to rid themselves of any ashes.

 

"I'm serious, Rich," she said before she opened the door. "It's his loss."

 

"I'm okay, Bevvie," Richie told her, but he looked down at his feet. "Really."

 

"Alright," she said, but she didn't sound convinced. "Should we have a plan in case they ask what took us so long?"

 

"Tell them we fucked. They'll either believe it, or won't ask again." Richie snorted, covering his mouth to contain his laughter. Bev smacked his shoulder hard and exited the room, the sleeves of her jacket making a weak attempt to muffle her cackle.

 

"They're going to be livid," she whispered, eyes wide as they approached the stairs.

 

"You think? We paused the apocalypse to have a smoke break and talk about boys, of course they're going to be pissed," he hissed, but he was unable to suppress the giddy feeling in his chest as they walked back downstairs and into the room where the other four Losers were sitting.

 

"So..." Mike watched them enter, pursing his lips. "Would you like to share with the class this time? No flames involved?"

 

"Oh, yeah," Richie said, glancing at Bev, who snickered. "We just, um, needed to have a little tea spilling, that's all."

 

"Oh, f-f-fuck off, you t-two," Bill groaned, running his hands down his face. "Seriously?"

 

"No joke, I swear to God," Bev replied, holding up her right hand as if she were under oath. "And... we may have bummed a cigarette on the bedpost."

 

"Jesus Christ." Mike looked like he was about to have a heart attack. Ben just looked exasperated. Bill wouldn't even look at anyone. Richie looked at Eddie next, and Eddie was staring at him with a furrowed brow and a thoughtful expression.

 

"Next order of business?" Ben piped up. "I'd like to have this over with in time to go home tomorrow or the day after. Is there anything else we need to do?"

 

"Well, I thought maybe we could stop by the clubhouse," Bev said. All eyes turned on her, and Richie found himself wondering why the clubhouse of all places. She shrugged sheepishly, pushing her hair behind her ear. "I feel like it's the place we spent the most time with Stan," she explained. "I just think we owe it to him. It kind of feels like we'll be paying him a visit, you know?"

 

"I agree," Eddie said, standing up. "I want to visit Stan."

 

"I'm in," Richie offered, raising his hand. "I haven't seen that place in years. I wonder how it held up."

 

"Oh, she held up perfectly, thanks," Ben claimed, also standing. "And if she didn't, I'll pay you any sum of money. Name it."

 

"Does that mean you're coming?" Eddie asked, giggling, and Richie tried not to melt at the sound, but his heart was getting heavier and warmer. He stared at the brunet, and he knew he looked like a lovesick puppy, because Beverly elbowed him in the side, but he couldn't help it. Eddie turned back to look and caught him staring. Richie froze, tearing his gaze away and pretending to be interested in a painting on the wall beside him.

 

"We don't really have time," Mike said. Everyone looked at Bill. His eyes were red, and the bottle in his hand was significantly lighter than it had been when Richie and Bev went upstairs.

 

Bill set it aside and pinched the bridge of his nose. "M-Mike is ruh-ruh-right. I w-w-w-want to visit him as m-much as the nuh-next person, but we h-h-have to do th-this now." His gaze suddenly cleared and he looked around the group very seriously.

 

"But Stan—" Eddie started to say, but the original Loser cut him off.

 

"You're ch-choking. I guh-guh-get it. But this i-is for ruh-real." He straightened up, and Richie found himself doing the same. Eddie scooted over to stand beside him, and Richie could feel his presence, always warm, always comforting. "Eh-eh-everything's a l-lot tuh-tuh-tuh-huffer when it's fuh-for r-r-real." He took a deep, shuddering breath, and continued tos titter through, brow furrowing in concentration. "Th-th-th-that's when y-you ch-ch-choke. Wuh-wuh-when it's f-for r-r-r-r—" he cut himself off, wincing. Everyone waited in a patience silence, calm, collected, and if Eddie's fingers brushed the back of Richie's hand before grasping his own, he wasn't complaining. "Real," Bill finally finished, looking down with an ashamed look in his eyes.

 

"You're right, Bill," Beverly said, glancing around at the others. "You're always right. We didn't mean to distract from what's happening."

 

"Yeah, Billy," Eddie piped up, fingers leaving Richie's briefly. "We're sorry."

 

Richie found himself grasping at air, curls bouncing around in front of his eyes. He sighed softly and lifted his chin. "Sorry, Big Bill. Got a little carried away."

 

"It's o-okay," Bill replied. "Let's j-j-just go, yeah?"

 

Everyone looked around at each other, and Eddie's hand once more found Richie's. Brown eyes met his, and Richie nodded.

 

"Let's go." 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Eddie let go of Richie's hand as soon as the group started to break apart and head for the door, but he didn't leave the man's side. As they were all walking through town, Richie found himself staring up at the seemingly starless sky.

 

"Do you think those are clouds, or do you think that fucker stole all our wishes, too?" He asked Eddie after a few minutes of hushed chatter amongst the other members of their group. The two of them hung towards the back, shoulders brushing, walking in an almost tense silence until Richie broke it.

 

"Who fuckin' knows?" Eddie mused. "Neither would surprise me. But I'd be pretty pissed if all my childhood wishes just disappeared like that. Same star, same wish, you know?"

 

"Oh yeah?" Richie grinned, looking over at the man with a soft chuckle. "What kinda wishes were you making back in the day, Eds?"

 

"If I tell you, how can I be sure they'll come true?" Eddie asked. "Don't call me Eds."

 

"Okay, Eds."

 

The silence stretched out for a few more minutes, and Richie looked down, daring to reach out and brush his hand 'accidentally' against Eddie's. He heard an exasperated little huff and his heart leaped into his throat when the hand fully grabbed his, lacing their fingers together.

 

"If it's been this long, what makes you believe they're still going to come true?" Richie asked, squeezing Eddie's hand a bit. The brunet squeezed back and shrugged, clenching the fist of his broken arm.

 

"A conversation I had with my best friend a little while ago," he conceded, a small smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth.

 

"Oh, well now you've got to tell me," Richie insisted, bumping their shoulders together. "What were you wishing about me when we were kids? Come on, Eds."

 

"That you would stop calling me that!" Eddie snarked, smile becoming wider. "I told you that I can't tell you, 'Chee. That's cheating."

 

"I'll tell you one of my wishes if you tell me one of yours," he offered, looking up now to see a single star peeking through. "We can just wish them out loud together, deal?"

 

"Fine," Eddie said, and they slowed to a stop, turning to face each other. Richie looked down at the man and smiled, ruffling his hair with his free-hand despite the protests.

 

"Alright, Spaghetti. Ready? Look up. See that one star right there, in the middle of the sky? The only one we can see for miles?" Richie pointed with his free hand, and Eddie followed his gesture with his eyes.

 

"Yeah," he said softly. Richie let his hand fall back down, resting it against Eddie's uninjured cheek. It was chilly out and his skin felt cool against Richie's hand.

 

"We're gonna wish on that one," Richie said, but he didn't look back up at the star. He couldn't tear his gaze away from Eddie, who was still looking up, the light of one star reflecting in his eyes, and a gentle smile on his lips. Rosy cheeks, one hand clasped tightly in Richie's, ready to make his wish. "Ready, Eds?" Richie asked, almost breathlessly.

 

"Yeah," Eddie confirmed. "Count of three?"

 

"Count of three," Richie agreed. "Here we go... one..." Eddie bit his lip, still looking upwards, gaze unwavering. Richie just stared at him, heart thudding against his ribcage, trying to escape. "...two..." Eddie's grip on Richie's hand tightened a little, and Richie ran his thumb along the man's cheekbone, taking a deep breath. "...three."

 

Two voices spoke simultaneously, overlapping one another. One pair of eyes never left the burst of light and energy sitting lightyears away from where they stood, and one pair never left the light of their own life, standing mere inches away.

 

"What did you say?" Richie asked, getting a little closer and staring down at Eddie with wide eyes. The brunet looked back, eyes shining.

 

"I said..." he let his gaze drop to his feet, clearly becoming a bit more shy. "I said, 'I wish he knew how much 'thank you' doesn't mean I don't love him back.'" He smiled sadly, tilting his head and leaning into Richie's hand, which was still cupping his cheek. Richie's mouth ran dry, and he struggled to catch his breath. "What did you say?"

 

"I said, 'I wish I didn't need these stupid glasses', but I feel kind of stupid about it now."

 

"Oh, fuck off, Richie!" Eddie laughed, letting go of Richie's hand to smack his shoulder. There was a single, shining moment in which they were centimeters away, Eddie smiling up at him with eyes that seemed to sparkle, a giggle that made Richie feel all fuzzy inside. They stood there for a moment, staring at each other, and Richie froze up. His muscles locked into place and he felt as though he couldn't move. He just looked. Eddie waited, searching his gaze carefully.

 

"Thank you, Richie," he said, and then it was over. He was jogging to catch up with the others, and Richie was left standing there with a hand in the air where a cheek had been just seconds earlier, and an erratically beating heart.

 

A chance missed. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

When they actually got to the house, Richie wasn't sure he was ready to face this

 

(again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again—)

 

yet. He didn't want to risk Eddie's life for a second time. But as they walked up the steps, he knew that Eddie's life wasn't the only one in danger. The door swung open invitingly, and Bill didn't hesitate, followed immediately by Bev and Mike, then Ben. Eddie followed Richie, bringing up the rear.

 

Something he hadn't done last time, Richie veered off into the room that had dead his missing poster. He yanked it out of the cobwebs, where he had been confident it would be waiting for him and started to rip it up. He squeezed his eyes shut, ripping unit lights there was nothing left to rip. He took a deep breath and let the pieces flutter to the ground.

 

He opened his eyes.

 

The walls were suddenly covered. A surprised shriek escaped his chest and he lifted his hands to his head, grabbing fistfuls of hair.

 

"R-Richie!" Bill entered the room and took one glance around, before heading over and grabbing Richie's wrists, guiding his hands down and out of his hair. "Remember th-this, Rich?" He asked urgently. "It wuh-wuh-wasn't real. Y-you're right here. N-not muh-muh-muh-missing." Richie took a deep breath and nodded, allowing Bill to guide him out of the room by his wrists, almost in a dreamlike state.

 

"Is he okay?" He faintly heard Eddie's voice ask. He sounded sort of far away. Bill has let go of Richie's wrists, but he still held his hands out in front of him, vision going hazy. He could hear something in the basement.

 

"Bill," he mumbled, swimming through his own memories as slowly as if they were made of quicksand. "Bill, it's coming. The werewolf—"

 

His voice was cut off by an inhumane, wolf-ish scream. Bev gasped, and Eddie was suddenly a blur right in front of Richie's face, a hand pattering against his cheek.

 

"Richie!" Eddie was shouting. "Richie, wake up! Something is coming, and we have to go." Richie tried to shake himself out of this hazy state, but he was moving like he had lead attached to every part of him. He blinked slowly.

 

"Werewolf," he said again, and the sound came again, closer this time, maybe from the basement.

 

"Richie!" Eddie screamed. "Let's go!" Richie stumbled forward when the man grabbed the front of his shirt and started to drag him. Then someone was pushing him from behind, and a hand struck his face, and his mind suddenly cleared.

 

"Holy fucking shit!" He screamed, thundering after his friends.

 

"Richie!" Eddie's voice shattered his eardrums, terror causing Richie's vision to run red. "What the fuck is that?!"

 

The door to the kitchen burst off it's hinges and a hulking, snarling figure stalked through it, saliva dripping in thick, frothing strings from the muzzle that preceded the monster by a fair amount into the room.

 

"No," Bill cried, and the recognition in his voice near,y drove Richie off the wall.

 

"I fucking told you!" He said, coming to a skidding halt and shoving Eddie behind him. "I fucking told you there was a werewolf!"

 

"Now is not the time for an 'I told you so', Richie!" Bev shouted, backing towards the door they had entered through.

 

"I have an idea, but you're all going to hate it!" Richie proposed as the creature surveyed their positions, growling and spitting and roaring, claws glittering in the little amount of light that trickled through the mostly boarded up windows. Dust particles flew around him, speeding up with every huffing breath that shot from his nostrils.

"Well, spit it out, now, because it's the only idea we've got!" Mike said.

 

"Alright!" Richie said, risking a glance over each shoulder. "Is everyone behind me?"

 

"Here," Eddie called.

 

"I am!" Bev squeaked from just over his right shoulder.

 

"I'm with you!" Mike supplied. The werewolf roared, and Richie caught heard Bill shout from behind him. All that left was—

 

"Here!" Ben said finally, out of breath. Richie tried to relax, mind racing.

 

"Okay," he said. "On my Mark, everyone run out of the house. Find a gap in that ugly-ass skirt around the edge of the porch and climb under—"

 

"Of course!" Bill cried. "The windows! They lead straight into the basement."

 

"Right!" Richie agreed. "If we can lure him down there we can finish the fight where it started. Is everybody ready?"

 

There was a chorus of jumbled and garbled responses, some confident, some terrified. Richie glared at the wolf that had haunted his dreams for countless nights and, lip curling, shouted, "Now!" Everyone scattered, making a mad dash for the door.

 

"Over here, ugly!" Richie shouted, separating from his friends and dashing for the stairs. The beast reared, and tore after him as he pounded up the steps. He heard a few scattered shouts of his friends behind him, but he was more focused on the all-too-familiar feeling of that steaming, rancid breath against the back of his neck, unable to run fast enough, the dreamlike state that kept him from moving his legs the way he needed to to make his escape.

 

Richie finally reached the top of the stairs and flashed around the corner, flinching when a clawed paw smashed the wooden railing where his body had been only seconds before. He could hear it grinding it's teeth, howls driving his eardrums nearly to the point of bursting, and he clamped his hands over his ears as he ran, instinctive tears beginning to build up in his eyes.

 

He practically flew down the hall he Eddie and Bill had ventured down on that fateful day and only stopped when the floor started to splinter and crack under his feet. A scream of horror tore itself from his vocal cords when the floor began to break beneath him and he started to fall. His arm flew out and he grabbed the edge with his fingertips, other hand flying up to grasp as tightly as he could. He looked down at his feet where they dangled over the kitchen and realized that Eddie must have faced a similar fall that same day.

 

"Holy shit!" He yelled, starting to pull himself upwards. He glanced up and he was met with the sight of the teenage werewolf towering above him, donning that horrid silver suit that belonged to the clown. For a moment, Richie struggled.

 

Let go and risk injury, or worse, let the beast lose interest? Or pull himself up, fight, and probably die faster?

 

Richie didn't have to think about it too hard.

 

"Suck my dick, motherfucker," he snarled, slackening his grip on the splintered floorboards and suddenly his stomach dropped as he began to free-fall.

 

It wasn't as far of a drop as he expected it to be. He was taller than they had been as kids. But the blinding pain in his ankle was unmistakable. He didn't dare look back up at the wolf man as he dragged himself over to the fridge and forced himself to his feet, crying out in pain when he tried to put weight on his left side. He heard a distant, echoing scream, and he tried to breathe, but all he could manage were a few choked gasps. He was sweating more than he had ever sweat in his life as he started to hobble over to the basement stairs, looking over his shoulder as the growls grew closer and the footsteps behind him grew heavier.

 

Richie started to stumble down the basement stairs only for a hand clad with silvery-white cloth landed on his shoulder. He didn't dare turn around when he felt that looming presence behind him. He could feel It's face pressing to the back of his head, rubbing along his neck and shoulder, and he tried to give himself an escape, imagine he were anywhere else.

 

Suddenly he was in the clubhouse, swinging in the hammock, a hot body pressed against his own and he flipped the page of his comic book, cheek pressed against the soft waves of brown hair that belonged to the boy buried into his side. His glasses were a little crooked due to the angle at which his head was pressed against his partner's, but he didn't mind. He wasn't really reading the comic anyway.

 

Then that gloves hand pushed him forward, out of the fantasy, and into a startling reality in which he was tumbling down the stairs and into the dark mustiness of the basement below.

 

Then he was alone.

 

Bruised, beaten up, and probably bleeding somewhere, Richie lay at the bottom for a minute, dazed and exhausted. A few tears began to leak from his eyes and he thought he heard himself sob once or twice. Then he got up, leaning heavily on the wall, and limped over to the well, wiping his eyes furiously.

 

It was a bottomless pit.

 

He took a deep breath and eased himself over the edge, grasping whatever places he could find with violently trembling hands. He lost his footing once or twice and landed on his injured ankle, causing stars to explode in his already foggy mind. One of the mishaps resulted in a pained scream that echoed trough the tunnels below.

 

"Richie!" a distant voice shouted back, and the relief was unlike any drug he had ever taken in his life. It coursed through his veins and the adrenaline that followed got him out of the well and into the tunnels below.

 

"Hello?!" He yelled into the seemingly empty sewers. His friends couldn't have gotten that far— could they? "I need— Aghh!" He fell against the slimy, odorous wall and slid down, clutching his ankle. He could already feel that it was swollen. He pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight, rolling up the leg of his jeans.

 

It was definitely sprained, he thought upon examining it more closely. A reddish-black bruise was forming along the outer edge and it was only getting bigger. Richie groaned and let his head fall back against the wall. He had to get up and find everybody.

 

Using the slippery surface of the edges of the sewers as best he could, Richie waddled along, grimacing every time he put his foot down on the ground. When he reached the first fork in his path, he hesitated. Shining his phone's flashlight around, he tried to think— where had they gone the first time?

 

Then his light caught something on the ground— it was small, but it reflected a tiny bit of the light back at him. It was a small pile of pills at the mouth of the left tunnel. Richie crouched down and picked one up, examining it closely. A few more tears spilled from his eyes, but he couldn't refrain his laughter. He clutched the pill in his fist and held it close to his heart, covering his eyes with his other hand, ankle throbbing beneath him.

 

"Richie!" The distant voice called again, but he ignored it. For all he knew, It was messing with him again.

 

"Fuck you," he said shakily, but his words became more and more jumbled until all that was coming out were trembling whimpers and sobs. He made his way down the tunnel, choking on tears and trying to ignore the exploding pain every time he took another step.

 

"Help!" He screamed after he had collected three or four more pills on various turns. "Help! Bill, Beverly, somebody!"

 

There was no reply this time. Richie wiped the grime and tears off of his cheeks, sniffling a little bit, then kept moving despite the looming sense of something being horribly wrong.

 

When he reached the area of tunnel that they crawled through in his nightmare— or whatever it had been— he fell to his knees and started to squeeze himself through, pills spilling from his hand as he reached forward and grasped at rock to pull himself forward.

 

"Guys?" He called in a wavering voice. "Are you there? Is anyone out there?"

 

A sudden blast and chorus of terrible screeches drowned out his further requests for help. A maniacal laugh of the clown followed, and he heard the thundering footsteps that had followed him and Eddie to the doors in his previous encounter. Richie started to speed up and when he finally squeezed through, he fell to the ground on the other side, ankle knocking against the cave wall. He groaned, clutching his leg tightly in his grasp and squeezing his eyes shut.

 

"Has the Trashmouth come to play?" It asked, and Richie squinted up to see the clown's eyes, huge and ice blue, staring straight into his soul from the crack that would lead out into the main vein of caves and tunnels. Richie pressed himself up against the little crawlspace he had just forced his way through, and he could feel how pale his face had grown, as if all of the blood had left it. He stared in frozen, rigid terror as one of the long, spindly legs reached in and speared the stone floor mere inches from where he sat.

 

"Get away!" He demanded, pressing himself further back and making himself as small as possible. "Get the fuck away from me!"

 

"Awwww," The spider-clown whined, slamming it's spear-like leg down again. Pebbles flew up and pelted Richie in the face, bouncing off his glasses and making a small hairline crack in them. "Why don't you want to play with me, Richie? Why can't we play together?"

 

"I don't want to play with you," he spat, grasping a stone and hurtling it at one of the eyes. It hit its mark, and It howled, flinching away and retracting the giant appendage. When the eyes returned, they were a deep amber color and smoldering with anger.

 

"Fine, then," the bloodcurdling voice hissed from the darkness. "I'll go play with your precious Eddie. Don't get too jealous, Richie... Even if he likes me more than he likes you." Then he was gone, and Richie's heart was sinking into his stomach and he was scrambling to get out of the little cave.

 

"Eddie!" He screamed, bursting out into the open and tripping, rolling right out into the path of It. A leg came down and he rolled again, shrieking when it landed right where he had been a few seconds before. "Eddie, hide!" He struggled to get to his feet again, falling once, twice, and then just giving up and crawling as fast as he could to the nearest gap in the wall.

 

"Where are you going, you little faggot?" Henry's voice, the same as it had been back when Richie was thirteen, was thundering in his ears. He risked a glance over his shoulder to see that a much younger Henry's face had taken the place of Pennywise's, and It was on Richie's tail, sinister grin growing with every step closer it got. "I thought you liked when boys touched you. Isn't that what you want, Faggot?"

 

Flashes of hands all over his body, grasping, squeezing, suffocating, had Richie collapsing onto his stomach, eyes bulging out of his head.

 

"Hey!" A voice pierced through the memories, and Richie flipped onto his back, sitting up and looking around wildly until his eyes settled on Eddie, who was coming out from one of the many crevices. The Henry-spider turned to look at him, lower lip curling in distaste.

 

"What do you want, Girly Boy?" It cackled. "You want the same treatment as your boyfriend?"

 

"Leave him alone!" Eddie shouted, hurtling rocks with his good arm.

 

"Eddie, no!" Richie cried, struggling to his feet and starting to make his way over, but he was too slow, he was going too slow, he had to speed up.

 

Everything was happening in slow motion. Someone was suddenly at Richie's side, helping him walk, and he looked over to see Ben supporting him from one side, Mike from the other. Bev was running at It with a determined look, and Bill was charging for Eddie.

 

"Eddie!" Richie screamed once again. The brunet seemed to pause in his wind-up for the next shot, glancing over at Richie. His face softened, and he even smiled a little bit. Richie let out an anguished shout as Bill and It connected with his childhood friend at the same time.

 

Time started moving normally again and Richie broke away from Ben and Mike, sprinting at full speed, numb to the pain in his ankle. Bev was stabbing at the legs with all she had, spikes from outside the house sticking out of at least five of them. Bill was dragging a mass away from It as the monster screamed, flicking Bev away so hard that she went flying at the wall.

 

Richie finally came to a screeching stop and fell to the ground beside Bill, who stopped only when he was under the cover of a wall of stone. Richie's glasses skittered off his face and all he could see was a dark mass of crimson that seemed to never end.

 

"Richie," Eddie was gasping, and he could hear a gurgle in the man's voice. Terror gripped his heart in its claws and Richie didn't even bother looking for his glasses, instead clambering over to Eddie, reaching out and finding his face. He grasped Eddie's cheeks in his hands, breaths coming in choked gasps.

 

"Oh my God, Eds, what the fuck—"

 

"Richie," Eddie said again, coughing. "Richie, it's okay."

 

"No it's fucking not!" Richie shouted, gripping Eddie's face tightly. He got close enough to clearly see Eddie's eyes, and he saw a flicker of warmth in them, felt Eddie's smile when his cheeks twitched against the palms of the taller man's hands. "You're hurt— Oh God, Bill, what do I— Eds—!"

 

"Hey," Eddie wheezed, lifting his own hand to brush Richie's face. Richie got closer, pressing their foreheads together and cried into him, sobbing openly. "Hey," Eddie said again, fingers tangling in Richie's curls. "Don't..." He coughed, turning his head a little so he wouldn't get blood on Richie's face. "Don't call me... Eds," the man said, and Richie's shoulders shook violently as he cried, trying to pull Eddie closer, closer, closer—

 

"You know I..."

 

And the body went limp in his arms. 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο 

 

 

3.   Letting Go

 

The angel in my memory

Or just the ghost I'm left with

You're everything I'd wanted

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

 

Everything ended. Then it began again. 

 

This time, It knew that the stupid man wasn't going to have much left to offer. It would be a much easier rewind. The window of opportunity was much larger. 

 

So It reached in with a single thread of his own thoughts. 

 

Backwards, reverse, spinning like a top. 

 

Then it stopped. 

 

And the world started spinning once more.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The amount of loss that Richie felt in that one moment was unmatched by anything— even the previous attempts. Perhaps it was because this time he knew he could have stopped it— perhaps it was because this time he had physically held him and felt his life force ebb away— perhaps it was because this time Richie was sure it wasn't a dream. 

 

Regardless of what it was, Richie felt like maybe if he lay down right here and let It kill him, too, it wouldn't really be so bad. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

He woke in a cold sweat, rolled over to the side of the bed and threw up everything that he had eaten that morning into the small trash bin by his bedside table. Shaking violently, Richie continued to dry-heave, sweat and tears coming off of his face in droplets, spattering against the floor and wastebasket. 

 

When he felt his stomach begin to settle, Richie rolled back over and cried out when he felt a stabbing pain in his left ankle. He pulled his knee up to his chest, kicked his shoe off and looked— nothing seemed to be wrong. He was sure it had been sprained— hadn't it? Just a few minutes ago... 

 

The image of Eddie's pale, sweat-soaked face, a square of gauze with a patch of red on it plastered to his cheek, normally so perfect hair wild and dripping with clear, salty perspiration. A faint smile, content with just peering at Richie, who could hardly breathe, could hardly see— but who was there, nonetheless. And then the light faded from those beautiful eyes, and for the second time in Richie's life, he had held the love of his life in his arms as he died. 

 

Richie got to his feet, testing weight on both of them, and found that he could support himself just fine aside from the fact that his knees felt like they were going to buckle beneath him. His gaze flicked over to his luggage, once again in the corner where he had put them when he first arrived— contacts in, even though he was sure he had taken them off and replaced them with his glasses. 

 

Richie walked unsteadily over to his suitcase and rustled through the contents, taking out a clean pair of jeans and a white t-shirt, since he had sweat through this one. He could hear his own breathing, raspy and shaking, as he pulled his glasses out of his toiletry bag and cleaned them off, ridding them of all dusty particles that clung to the lenses. When he got into the bathroom he blinked his contacts out and tossed them in the trash without much thought, turning on the water in the shower and waiting until it was nearly scalding— the way he tended to like it more often than not. 

 

Once he was under the hot, steaming stream of water, Richie tried to calm himself down. It was proving difficult as a lump started to grow in his throat and he had to swallow it back multiple times in order to keep it from growing into anything unbearable. He had a feeling the liquid running down his face and cheeks wasn't just water, but he tried not to think about it too hard as he scrubbed himself raw, skin becoming red. 

 

Richie started at the wall of the shower for what felt like years. 

 

If he had been a little faster, maybe. If he hadn't broken his ankle, or sprained it, or whatever the hell he had done. If he had just outsmarted It, instead of letting himself fall. If he had gotten through the tunnels faster, or if he hadn't been so slow about getting away from It when it was looking for Eddie. If he hadn't let it go after Eddie in the first place. 

 

He slammed his fist against the wall with a strangled cry, letting his head fall forward, and stood like that for a few more minutes, warm droplets running down his spine, dripping to the ground at his feet. 

 

When Richie entered the bedroom section of his room again, dried and dressed, he saw that it was raining outside— a first. He almost welcomed the noise as a low rumble of thunder shook the window pane which was already being pelted by cool raindrops fighting to gain entry inside his room. 

 

"You'll never get in here," he said aloud, and he almost laughed— Of course they wouldn't. They just fell wherever they were destined to fall, evaporated and flew back up, then fell again somewhere far away. And though he knew that very well himself, he couldn't help but wonder if one of those raindrops that were hitting his window had fell in that exact spot before— falling in the same spot over and over, reliving the same event every time it went back up into the clouds. 

 

Towel slung around his neck, Richie straightened his glasses, picked up his phone and saw that Mike had called while he was in the shower. He dialed his friend and put the phone up to his ear, hoping Mike wasn't busy now that he had waited so long to call back. But the man picked up after the second ring. 

 

"Hello?" The deep, soothing voice trickled into Richie's ear, and he took a deep breath. 

 

"I need your help," he told Mike, pressing his lips together. "I think I've gone crazy." 

 

"What are you talking about, Rich?" He asked. Richie sucked in a breath, shoving one hand in his pocket and walking over to the window just to watch the rain. 

 

"I've lived through this all twice in a row, Mikey," Richie whispered into the receiver. "Every time it just resets and starts over again." 

 

"Lived through what?" Mike asked next, and Richie shook his head, closing his eyes. 

 

"All of it." He chewed on the inside of his cheek and stepped back, sitting on the edge of the firm mattress of his bed. "Our lunch reunion, splitting up to remember things on our own, meeting back up, and the final fight. I've done it twice now." 

 

"Why didn't you tell me before?" Mike said, panicked. Richie laughed humorlessly. 

 

"Well gosh, Mikey, I guess if I had known, I would have told you on the way," he said, pulling the towel off of his neck and tossing it aside. "I wake up about a half hour ago every time so far. It's been a little different both times— and it's never rained like this before. But I've done this already, and I thought I'd tell you, because I don't know who else to talk to about it." Richie pulled the phone away from his ear when he heard the thud of a suitcase against the ground, and then wheels rolling against a wooden floor past his room. 

 

"Well, I'll save you the explanation and you can just tell everyone when we all get here," Mike told him. Richie nodded and looked down, even though he knew Mike couldn't see him. 

 

"Okay," he finally said, voice growing hoarse. "Okay, Mike. I'll let you go, then. And be on my way. Soon." 

 

"Okay, Richie," Mike said back, his blatant hesitation clear even through the phone. "I'll see you soon." 

 

"See you soon," Richie agreed, then hung up. He turned his phone off and held it tightly, listening to the door to the room next to his shut a bit louder than maybe it had to, and a muffled curse. He got up and walked stiffly out of his own room and over to the next one over, resting his forehead against the door. 

 

What should he say? What could he say? Was it going to be hard to see him again? 

 

It hadn't been hard last time— But that was only because it was so unexpected, and he had thought it was a dream— What was it going to be like this time?

 

Richie held his breath, lifted his head, and knocked on the door. 

 

"Coming!" The familiar voice called. There was a quiet shuffling noise, and then footsteps, and the door opened. The lump returned when Eddie looked up at Richie with a pleasantly surprised smile spreading across his face. 

 

"Richie?" The man asked. "Is that you?" 

 

"Yeah, Eds," Richie said, swallowing the lump with some difficulty. "It's me." 

 

"I'll let that one slide, but only because I'm happy to see you," Eddie said, referencing the nickname. 

 

"How 'bout you just lemme call you that a while?" Richie suggested, shrugging his shoulders weakly. "I missed you." 

 

"I missed you, too," Eddie said, brow furrowing. "Why are you being so weird?" 

 

"Oh, no reason," Richie mumbled, averting his eyes. "Just— Mike wants me to tell everyone when we get there. So..." 

 

"Well, you can tell me," Eddie insisted, backing away and gesturing for Richie to come in. He hesitated, looking into the room and glancing around at all of the bags scattered around the room. Then he stepped inside, walked around all of the luggage and sat down at the end of Eddie's bed, playing with his hands in his lap. 

 

"I think It's done something to me," Richie admitted, gaze flicking up to meet Eddie's. The brunet went pale, and crossed the room in a few quick steps, staring at Richie with huge eyes as he continued. "I— This is the third time I've woken up in my room this afternoon. The same exact time on the clock every time I wake up. Every time I go to lunch, reunite with everyone all over again, face It, and you die. It's like clockwork. Right in my arms, you die, every fucking time." He covered his mouth with his hands and closed his eyes, beginning to tremble again. 

 

"Rich..." Eddie trailed off, speechless. He walked around the bed and sat down next to Richie, reaching out hesitantly. Richie flinched away from his touch, trying not to think about the soft gasp that drove a stake through his heart. 

 

"Just— I'm okay, really," Richie said, pulling away and standing up very quickly. "I just need to get some air. Probably just a nightmare." He started to head for the door, but Eddie got there first, blocking his way. 

 

"Or," Eddie countered, frowning deeply, "this is something serious that we need to deal with. You're clearly not okay, Richie. You're pale as a sheet and you're shaking all over." 

 

"I'm fine," he insisted. "Let me through." 

 

"No," Eddie refused, crossing his arms over his chest. "We need to figure this out." 

 

"I don't want to think about it, Eddie," Richie warned. "I'm serious. Get out of my way." 

 

"Richie, please—" Eddie said, but Richie just stomped his foot rather childishly. 

 

"I told you I'm fine!" He said again. "I don't want to talk about it more than I have to. It's good to see you, Eds, but Mike is expecting me at the library, so I've gotta go." Eddie reluctantly stepped aside, and Richie hesitated, longing to reach out and touch him, terrified that he would simply phase out of existence. But Eddie just looked away, moving out of reach, and Richie's shoulders slumped. He walked out of the room, hearing it click shut quietly behind him. 

 

He nodded politely to the employee at the front desk on his way out, pulling his sweatshirt on and the hood over his head as he stepped out into the rain. His hands buried themselves in his pockets and he began his trek, stepping in every puddle on his way there, thinking about lazy Saturdays in the rain. Lazy because Eddie was never allowed to play in the rain, and it was a rule in the Losers Club that it was all of them or nothing, unless someone was out under some sort of suspension. 

 

"Richie!" A voice called, and he stopped, turning and waiting for the slightly younger man himself to come running to catch up. He had a raincoat on, and Richie was sure that his fanny pack was hidden under it, which made him smile a little bit. The brunet caught up, saw him smiling, and smiled a little himself. 

 

"This is a first," Richie said, gesturing to the rain. "You never came out to see us when it was raining." 

 

"Well, there was that one time when we had school first, and afterwards, I ran off with you guys instead of going home," Eddie remembered, grinning. Richie thought about it, kicking at the sidewalk with the toe of his shoe, brow furrowing. 

 

"Right," he remembered, looking up. "We went to the clubhouse to get out of the rain, and you shared the hammock with me even though I hadn't had a jacket, so I was soaked." 

 

"You were going to freeze to death if you didn't get warm somehow!" Eddie protested, cheeks darkening. Richie laughed, glancing across the street where the 'walk' symbol had lit up, signifying that they had the right of way. 

 

"There were blankets down there," he said, offering his arm. Eddie rolled his eyes and walked past him, glancing both ways and crossing the street. "You just wanted Richie Time, admit it!" He teased a bit more, following after him, water splashing up as he went. "You wanted cuddles with me because I was the only one you hadn't gotten them with yet." 

 

"Shut up, you idiot!" Eddie laughed, smacking his shoulder when he caught up. "You still don't have a raincoat— Don't expect me to cuddle with you when we get to the library." 

 

"Oh, come on! I was so looking forward to it," Richie complained in good humor, slinging an arm over Eddie's shoulders. The man shrugged the arm off, pulling his hood tighter over his head as to conceal his grin. "Soaked snuggles on a hard library floor— who wouldn't love that?" 

 

"Stanley would hate it," Eddie said, and Richie's stomach churned a little bit at the mention of their old friend. He kept his mouth shut, but he had a feeling that was one of the things that would remain universal— Stan The Man was no longer with them. 

 

"Yeah," he agreed anyway, walking up the steps of the library for the third time in his life. He held the door for Eddie, a warm feeling igniting in his heart when Eddie smiled at him on the way by. 

 

"You know who'd love it, though?" Eddie asked, turning to face Richie as he walked backwards towards the gift shop. "Ben." 

 

"Oh, God, Haystack would love that," Richie cackled, following him. Eddie laughed, turning around, and they walked side by side towards the small merchandise corner. "He and Bev, ideally, yeah?" 

 

"Oh yeah!" Eddie gasped. "He was so whipped for her. Everyone knew it except for her." 

 

"Oh, I think she knew," Richie disagreed, picking up one of the 'I ❤️ Derry' mugs. "She was just so preoccupied with wooing Bill that she didn't pay any mind to the poor New Kid." He walked over to the counter with the mug and slapped down a $10. 

 

"Would you like a bag, sir?" The employee asked blankly. Richie considered, looking down at the cup, then shook his head. 

 

"No, thanks. I'm going to use it at lunch today." He grinned, dropped his change in the tip jar and wandered back over to Eddie. "But I think Stan had Bill before she could get a real grip on him anyway, don't you?" 

 

"Bill had no idea," Eddie said, sifting through the sweatshirts. "He didn't even know how bad he had it, but Stanley had that boy wrapped so tightly around his finger that it must have been cutting off his circulation." 

 

"Remember prom night?" Richie asked, tilting his head as Eddie pulled out yet another Hawaiian shirt, a different color and pattern this time. 

 

"You mean the night that you blew off the dress code and never asked me to dance?" Eddie huffed, holding the shirt up to Richie and examining him briefly. 

 

"That's the one," Richie agreed, holding his arms out and raising his eyebrows. "You know, if it's really that big of a deal to you, we can have that dance right now." 

 

"Now?" Eddie snorted, heading over to the cash register. He paid for the shirt, and Richie took his soaked sweatshirt off, replacing it with the Hawaiian shirt and handing Eddie the mug. "No way. There's no music, and we're in a library." 

 

"Then let's go outside," Richie said, shrugging his shoulders. "I'll put something slow on." He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and waved it under Eddie's nose, taking him by the hand, the cool metal of his ring pressing against Richie's palm. He led a giggling brunet out into the rain, scrolling through his phone. He selected a song and turned the volume up as high as it would go, sticking the device back into his pocket so the speakers were facing up into the air. Then he took Eddie's mug and put it on the corner of the sidewalk. 

 

"No, Richie," Eddie protested, but his body moved pliantly with every nudge the Richie gave it, so the taller man pulled him closer until they were hand in hand, Eddie's left on Richie's shoulder, Richie's left on Eddie's waist, and they danced. 

 

"You're awful," Eddie grumbled, feet moving smoothly where Richie tripped up a little bit. 

 

"Hey, I've been practicing!" Richie protested. 

 

"No, not—" Eddie laughed, shaking his head, and Richie let go of his hand to pull the brunet's hood up and cover his hair, before returning it and lacing their fingers together. "I didn't mean your dancing," Eddie said, looking up through his eyelashes, which were now wet, sticking together in clumps, but still long and brushing his cheeks whenever he blinked. 

 

"What did you mean, then?" Richie asked as the chorus swelled for the first time. Eddie shook his head, getting a bit closer and tugging on one of Richie's soaking wet curls. 

 

"Just... this. I can't believe I'm out here, in the rain, with you. We haven't seen each other in twenty-seven years." Eddie bit his lip, tilting his head a little bit. "At least— I haven't seen you in a long time. Have you done this to me every time, or am I the only me that has the honor of that dance you never asked from me?" 

 

"Just you," Richie confirmed, shrugging sheepishly. "It hasn't rained in any of the other instances. The topic came up last time— but you were mad at me, and then we got busy with the serious stuff, so I didn't have the time." 

 

"Why was I mad at you?" Eddie asked, curiosity ever present in those big brown eyes. Richie sighed, looking up at the library windows, where one or two people were watching them, then turned them so that Eddie wouldn't see and stop due to his inevitable embarrassment. 

 

"Misunderstandings," Richie answered, and Eddie furrowed his brow, making a face. 

 

"Vague, but okay," he replied, chuckling when Richie let go of his waist and lifted their hands to twirl him. Eddie spun once and met him once again in the middle of the sidewalk. Richie looked back up at the window and saw Mike staring at them with an exasperated, but knowing smile on his face. He winked, and Richie tore his gaze away to look back down at Eddie, who was lost in his own thoughts. 

 

"So I'll be your friend, and I'll be your lover," Richie sang in a horribly off-key voice when the chorus began to play for the last time. Eddie winced, but laughed, and looked up at him with shining eyes. "Well, I know in our heart we agree," Richie continued, dipping Eddie very dramatically and lifting him up off the ground when they straightened up. 

 

"We don't have to be one or the other," Eddie finished for him, breathless with laughter as he was placed back on his own two feet. They stared at each other briefly, and then quickly separated, Eddie twisting his ring on his finger with a downcast look. 

 

"Thanks for the dance, Rich," Eddie finally said, looking up with a small smile. "But if I get sick because of this, you're paying for my doctor's visit." 

 

"Done," Richie agreed, offering a hand. Eddie took it lightly, and they walked back up the steps and into the library, grabbing his mug and dumping out the excess rain water on the way. There was a quiet applaud from one couple who had been watching the, from the window, and Eddie's cheeks went a deep crimson color. He immediately let go of Richie's hand, clasping his own over his face to cover the darkening color. Mike approached them, shaking his head and chuckling. 

 

"You two never cease to amaze me," he told them simply, and Richie just grinned. 

 

"The most amazing of friends, we are," he told Mike in his Yoda impression, trying hard to ignore the way Eddie pretended to gag at the voice from his side. 

 

"Uh-huh," Mike hummed, raising his eyebrows. "Well, you two have other most amazing friends who are waiting for you at the restaurant we were supposed to be at five minutes ago, so if you don't mind, I think we should be on our ways." 

 

"Sorry Mikey," Eddie apologized, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. Mike just heaved a great sigh, and as they headed out, he opened his umbrella, walking in the middle of them and covering as much as possible. Richie may have nudged the man's arm closer to Eddie's side, but if he noticed, he didn't say anything. 

 

"I didn't know they even still built things here," Eddie grumbled as they approached the mall, and despite his raincoat, he was shivering. Richie took the umbrella from Mike and squeezed between them, pulling Eddie tightly against his side and rubbing his arm furiously, but the brunet just scoffed and pushed him off. Richie snickered, gave the umbrella back and resumed his original position as they walked inside. 

 

Mike shook off the umbrella and told them to go ask for the table under his name while he waited for the others. Richie took Eddie's coat and hung it up at the coat rack outside their table's little concealed nook, throwing his own soaked sweatshirt up there as well. His clothes were wet too, which he worried about, glancing at the cloth seats, but Eddie just rolled his eyes and pulled out the seat next to himself. 

 

Richie plopped down beside his friend and sighed, leaning his head over onto the man's shoulder. "I missed you, Eds." 

 

"I missed you too, 'Chee," he replied, and surprisingly, he didn't shake him off as he usually would. After a moment, Richie felt a warm cheek press against his soaked hair, and if he were a cat he would have purred. 

 

"Richie," Eddie mumbled after a second, and Richie, closed his eyes, grunting. "How did I die?" 

 

The question caused Richie's heart to skip a beat, and he froze, eyes flying open. He sat up very slowly, and looked down at the table in front of him, struggling to find something to do with himself as he attempted to dodge the question. 

 

"Well— I, um... You see, it was—" He grabbed a napkin and wrung it in his anxious hands, biting his lip and swallowing thickly. Eddie waited patiently, eyebrows knit together, and Richie tried again, a bit more calmly. "The first time," he said, picking his words carefully, "You died saving my life. I was caught in the deadlights— like Bev was. I don't really know what you did... But when I woke up, all I knew was that you—" He exhaled shakily, closing his eyes again. "Your arm was gone. And... I held you. And you died." 

 

Richie went quiet for a moment, and Eddie's lips simply curved further downwards into a deeper frown. Then Richie continued. 

 

"Last time... And mind you, this happened about an hour ago for me," he reminded the man, who's eyes widened in slight alarm. "Last time," Richie said again, "It started coming after us earlier than the time before. So I distracted it while you and the others snuck down into the sewers. I hurt my ankle when I feel through the floor—" 

 

"Like, the same floor I feel through?" Eddie interrupted, looking troubled. "Is the hole still there?" 

 

"It was the same spot," Richie nodded. "Just opened up beneath my feet." Eddie looked away, fists clenching, and Richie sighed. "Anyway, I found you guys, but It got there first. And since I was hurt, when I tried to lure It away from you, I wasn't able to get very far. So you came out, and you saved my life, again." Eddie met his gaze, and smiled sadly. 

 

"Of course I did," he said, tilting his head. "I'd always save your life if I was given the chance." 

 

"Every time you do, you die," Richie forced out, the feeling of being unable to breathe beginning to return. "Every time I put myself out there to save you, you end up saving me— and then I never get there in time to change anything. I couldn't move fast enough. He killed you right in front of me— and this time you were more aware of everything that was happening. You looked me in the eye while it happened." Richie curled his arms around himself and shook his head, face scrunching up. "You looked at me, and you said, 'Richie, don't call me Eds.' And you died. In my arms. Again." 

 

"Well, Don't call me Eds," Eddie said, scowling, and Richie's mouth fell open. 

 

"That's all you have to say about that?" He sputtered, eyes wide. "All you have to say is just to confirm your last words to me, both times you died?" 

 

"What? They're good fucking last words," Eddie pointed out. "I don't want you to call me that." 

 

"You don't really hate it," Richie grumbled, folding his arms over his chest. "You like it. Admit it." Eddie's cheeks went pink, and he shook his head so hard that his hair flopped around a little despite the product he had put in it. 

 

"Nope. I hate it," he said. 

 

"Oh, come on—" Richie started to say, but a new voice cut them off. 

 

"Hey, Losers! I don't mean to crash the party, but I'm excited to see you guys and I was kind of hoping you'd be excited to see me, too." 

 

Both men turned to see a fiery red head standing at the entrance of the little room, a hand on her hip and a smile on her face. Richie got to his feet, hands shoved in his pockets, and strode over. Eddie flashed by him, almost knocking her over with the force of his hug. She laughed, hugging back with the same force. 

 

"Bevvie!" Eddie greeted, voice dripping with warmth. "It's so good to see you." 

 

"It's good to see you, too, Eddie," she replied, giggling. "Now put me down so I can go hug your boyfriend." Richie choked on the sip he had taken of the water in his glass, beating his fist against his chest as he began to cough. 

 

"He's not my boyfriend!" Eddie insisted, but let go of her nonetheless. "I'm married." 

 

"Married?!" Bev squealed. Richie finally got his coughing under control and walked over, examining the ring with her as if he had never seen it before. It was just a plain golden band around his finger. 

 

"Her name is Myra," Eddie said, and he was smiling, but Richie could detect the slight reluctance in his voice. "She's... nice." 

 

"Just nice...?" Bev asked, raising an eyebrow. 

 

"Well... Yeah." Eddie frowned, averting his eyes and shuffling his feet. "Nice." 

 

"Sounds like somebody got married just to get married," a deeper voice said, and Ben entered, grinning. Richie almost forgot to be surprised by the fact that he was so fit. 

 

"Haystack," he said, trailing off for dramatic effect. "What the fuck." 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," The man said, cheeks becoming a rosy color. 

 

"Eddie is married!" Bev said, pointing to the ring. 

 

"I heard," Ben said, grinning. "Good on you, Eds." 

 

"Hey!" Richie snapped. "That's mine!" 

 

"Shut up, Richie," Eddie snarked, stepping closer to Ben. "Benjamin can call me whatever he'd like." Richie's jaw dropped, and he turned to Bev for help, but she just snorted, covering her mouth. He finally just threw his hands in the air with a huff and walked back to the table. 

 

"Fine! I guess I'll just sit somewhere else then," he sniffed, wiping a fake tear from his eye. "I thought we had something, Spaghetti. I really did." 

 

"Awww," Bev said. "Come on, Eddie. Look how sad he is." For show, Richie out on his best puppy dog face, jutting out his bottom lip and looking down. Eddie scoffed. 

 

"He's just being a baby. Sit in your fucking seat, dipshit." 

 

Richie stuck out his tongue but sat down anyway, tilting his chair back onto it's rear legs. Sure enough, he heard the pattern of footsteps, and two hands gripped his shoulders, pushing him back down so the char stood flat. Eddie plopped down next to him, cheeks pink, and Bev and Ben took seats beside each other as well. 

 

"Hey g-guys." 

 

Everyone looked up to see Bill and Mike standing in the doorway, grave looks on their faces. Bill's eyes were red, and Richie was almost sure for a second that he saw the glistening of something wet on his cheek. 

 

"We've guh-got n-n-news." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"Stanley Uris killed himself in his own house last night," Mike told everyone, gripping the back of the chair in front of him as he gazed around at them with furrowed eyebrows. "It was an hour or so after I made the call." 

 

Silence met the librarian's words. Richie chewed nervously on his lower lip, sharing a glance with Bev, who shook her head. He clenched his napkin so tightly that his knuckles began to turn white and he could taste blood in his mouth he was biting down so hard. 

 

"So... what are we supposed to do now?" Ben asked, sitting up a bit straighter. "What happened to our lucky number seven?" 

 

"Wuh-wuh-we fight It a-anyway," Bill said, glaring at the table in front of him. "Avenge him." Richie's heart twinged painfully at the look of heartbreak on his friend's face. He recognized the cold, unbearable fury he could see in Bill's eyes as the emotion he felt every time Eddie died. 

 

"Cheers," he said, lifting his glass. All it contained was water, but it was the thought that counted, he told himself. Everyone started to meet glasses in the middle, and Eddie's mug clinked against Richie's, out of place among the crowd of glassware. Richie glances over at the brunet, smiling a little, and the man looked miserable, but he smiled too. 

 

"So what's been going on, Mike?" Beverly asked, settling back in her seat. "Why are we here?" 

 

"The murders," Mike replied, frowning. "They've started again." 

 

"I don't see why that's my responsibility," Eddie piped up, and Richie tried not to get his hopes up, but he found himself hoping against hope that Eddie would walk out and go home living. 

 

"We made an oath," Mike reminded them, tilting his head. "Stan couldn't handle it. We're going to have to handle it for him." 

 

"Duh-duh-duh-don't t-talk about him like h-h-he was wuh-weak," Bill snapped, cheeks turning red. "He was st-st-stronger than any of u-us." 

 

"Sorry Bill," Mike mumbled, looking away. "You're right." 

 

"I want to commemorate him," Eddie said, sitting up very straight. "I want to do something for Stanley." Bill seemed to perk up a little bit at that. 

 

"What if we went to the clubhouse and played one of those old games he made up?" Bev suggested. "The ones we never wanted to play, because they were so complicated." 

 

"He always got so upset!" Richie laughed, the memory beginning to come back to him. "He our so much time into making up the rules and nobody had the patience to learn them all." 

 

"Yuh-yuh-yeah," Bill agreed. "W-we should visit him. He wr-wr-wrote the ruh-rules down." 

 

"We'll find them!" Ben said, nodding. 

 

"Guys!" Mike interjected, rapping his knuckles against the table sharply. All eyes traveled over to him. He sighed. "This is all well and good, but we don't have much time," he explained. "We should kill It first." 

 

"He's ruh-right," Bill muttered, averting his eyes, and nobody disagreed. Richie fiddled with his napkin a little more, scowling. It wasn't fair. Stanley still hasn't gotten a proper goodbye from the Losers. 

 

"I think Richie had something to tell us," Mike changed the subject, and suddenly the curly-haired man was the center attention in their group. He fidgeted in his seat, cheeks growing warm as reluctance started to swell in his stomach. Then the weight of a hand dropped into his knee, and he followed the arm all the way up to the owner's face. Eddie nodded encouragingly, and Richie took a deep breath, nodding in return. 

 

"So...." He swallowed thickly and struggled to find a place to begin. "The past twenty-four hours or so... for me... have been spent reliving the same few hours over and over. This is my third time sitting in this restaurant with you guys at 1:36 in the afternoon and discussing Stanley's suicide. This is my third time waking up in the Derry townhouse and heading down to discuss what we're going to do. Next Mike is going to tell us that he thinks we should split up and start to remember things on our own. He's going to tell us to meet at the library once we're done and knock if we're late." It all cane out in a rush of breath, and Richie looked around at them all hesitantly, running a hand down the side of his face. 

 

"How did you know the exact words I was going to use?" Mike asked, brow furrowing. 

 

"Because I've lived through this twice now, Mikey," Richie said, nervous laughter beginning to spill out. "I don't—" He shook his head and took a deep breath. "I don't know what the fuck is going on, and I'm really starting to freak out." 

 

"Okay, Rich," Bev chipped in, reaching out and grasping his arm gently. "Okay. Just calm down." 

 

"You don't believe me," he accused, pulling his arm out of her grasp. 

 

"Of course I do!" She protested. 

 

"No you don't," he insisted, voice trembling. "You wouldn't believe me unless I told you that you're married to a man named Tom Rogan and he doesn't treat you very well. You haven't told us that yet, but you told me a few hours ago— Or, for you, in a few hours." Richie felt like he was going to pass out. Beverly's eyes were huge and disbelieving. 

 

"Oh my God, he's not kidding," she murmured. 

 

"I-I-It must b-be fuh-fuh-fucking with him," Bill suggested, frowning deeply. 

 

"You think?!" Richie laughed, nearing hysterics. "I've only watched Eddie die twice now. Let's make it a third, huh? A third, because It's only fucking with me, and we're sure I'll get a do-over if I fuck it up this time." 

 

"Richie—" Eddie started to say, but Richie cut him off. 

 

"I can't do it," he shook his head vigorously, throwing his hands up. "I can't do it again. Nope. I won't. So, you guys can all go. I'm just gonna hang back. Maybe go home. Maybe if I'm not there, Eds won't die trying to save my life." 

 

"Pull yourself together, man," Mike said, scowling at him. "You're an adult man." 

 

"Yeah, well, it doesn't feel like it when I'm here," Richie spat out truthfully, folding his arms over his chest and averting his eyes, but he knew Mike was right. They were already missing Stan, and it had been disastrous without Mike, then even worse when Richie showed up late. They all had to be there this time. 

 

"Whatever," he whispered, swallowing another lump back and blinking rapidly. "I'll go." 

 

"Good," Mike said, eyeing him suspiciously. "No funny business. Do we need to buddy you up with someone for the next stage?" 

 

"Eddie," Richie said immediately, and the brunet's grip on his knee tightened. Richie tenses, heart skipping a beat. Eddie looked up at his face and suddenly turned pink, letting go very quickly. 

 

"No," Bill said flatly, glaring between the two of them. "Y-You'll just run off tuh-tuh-together." 

 

"We will not!" Eddie gasped. "You don't trust me?" 

 

"W-With him?" Bill asked, nodding to Richie with raised eyebrows. "Nuh-Not even a little." Eddie hugged dramatically and slumped back in his chair. 

 

"Whatever," he grumbled. Richie made a face at Bill, scooting his chair closer to Eddie's and taking a sip of the water in his mug. Eddie snatched it away and wrinkled his nose, wiping off the rim. "Ya nasty," he hissed. 

 

"I'll take him," Bev volunteered, raising her hand. 

 

"No," Mike disagreed. "You two get distracted when you're paired together. You'll just find somewhere to smoke and talk about boys." 

 

"Ouch, Mikey," Richie put a hand over his heart. "Just because you know I'd love to gush about Eddie doesn't mean you can call me out like that." A roll of the eyes and a smack to the shoulder later, Richie was rubbing his arm and grimacing, muttering rushes apologies. 

 

"L-Let him come with m-m-me," Bill said, sitting up. "I'm guh-going to my o-o-old house. I'll keep an e-eye on him." 

 

"Come on, you guys," Richie complained. "I don't need a babysitter. Besides, if Eddie isn't coming with me then I'm not going anywhere." 

 

"Why?" Eddie asked incredulously, quirking a brow. 

 

"Because I'm not just going to leave you here to fight some monster and maybe die trying," Richie replied. "Duh, Eds. 

 

"Fine," Mike spoke up. "Here's the deal. You can go wherever you were going to go, and I'll tail you since I don't have anywhere to be anyway. I'll leave the library unlocked for the rest of you in case you beat us back. Nobody is going to rob us anyway." He rolled his eyes, and there were a few muted chuckles. 

 

"Fine," Richie nodded. "But I want a loose follow, not company, okay? Last time I did this I actually had a pretty good memory and I don't want someone coming with me to ruin the chances of that happening again." 

 

"Ew, what did you remember? Some girl under the stairs at school?" Bev asked, wrinkling her nose. 

 

"No!" Richie snapped. "Eddie and I—" 

 

"Eddie and you under the stairs at school?" Bev interrupted, eyes growing huge. The brunet choked on his water and started to cough. Richie knew his face was beet-red at this point. 

 

"No!" He said, pressing his cool hands to his cheeks. "Eddie and I at the quarry. He gave me a bandaid for a splinter I got." 

 

"That's it?" Ben asked, raising his eyebrows. Richie flushed, remembering his moment at the Kissing Bridge, and nodded furiously, unwilling to go there yet. 

 

"That's it," he insisted. "We has gotten into a fight earlier and I walked him home." 

 

"I remember that!" Eddie said suddenly. "You ditched us to spend the day at the arcade." 

 

"Yeah, and I almost got fuckin' mauled by the Paul Bunyan statue, so you can imagine why I was in a funky mood when I got back," he grumbled. 

 

"What?" Eddie went pale, eyes growing big. "You what?" 

 

"Nothing!" Richie blurted, getting to his feet. "I say we all head out! You ready, Mikey?" 

 

"As I'll ever be," the man replied, and everyone started to get to their feet. "Where to?" 

 

"The Kissing Bridge," Richie said immediately, then froze, biting his lip. 

 

"Why there?" Ben asked. 

 

"Yeah, what happened at the Kissing Bridge, Richie?" Bev asked, wiggling her eyebrows. "Since you're so determined to have a good memory." 

 

"Nothing!" Richie forced a laugh. "It was a joke, you guys. I'm not going to the Kissing Bridge... Like, whaaaat?" He waved his hands dismissively and walked over to the door, pulling his moderately dry but still damp sweatshirt off of the coat rack. "I'm going.... To my house!" He invented quickly, shrugging. "Old memories, you know? Wonder what it's like." 

 

"Mhm," Bev said, smirking as she walked by with her own coat, followed by Ben, and then a suspicious Bill. Mike walked out next, and that left Eddie. Richie turned, blocking the door. 

 

"What do you want with the Kissing Bridge?" Eddie whispered, grinning a little. Richie leaned down so his mouth was real close to Eddie's ear. 

 

"Preserving a carving. You know, for a friend." 

 

"Uh-huh," Eddie said, raising his eyebrows. "For a friend?" 

 

"Yeah... Me, and a close friend." Richie pinched Eddie's cheek, smirking. "You're so cute when you think you know things." Eddie grunted, swatting Richie's hans away and ducking around him to leave the room. 

 

Richie grinned and followed his friends out of the building, glancing out the window. The rain was starting to let up. 

 

Maybe things wouldn't be so bad this time.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie followed Eddie closely as they walked out the door, ignoring the way the smaller man swatted at him. He grinned, slinging an arm around the man's shoulders and pulling him in, resting his head against the messy brown mop of hair on top of the struggling man's. 

 

"Get off of me," Eddie grumbled. 

 

"You don't sound like you really want me to, Eds," Richie drawled. 

 

"Consent is sexy!" Bev called from a few feet ahead, and something stirred in the back of Richie's mind, giving him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. His grip loosened and Eddie finally pulled away, out of breath. Richie drifted away a few feet, breath hitching. 

 

Consent is sexy. 

 

Consent. 

 

He blinked, and for a split second the image of Henry Bowers' head on a spider's body loomed over him. Richie came to a stuttering halt, fists clenched, and he felt the blood begin to drain from his face. 

 

"'Chee?" Eddie asked, glancing back. "You okay?" 

 

"Yeah," he mumbled. "I think I just—" the sinking feeling of the need to be sick began to twist in his stomach. 

 

"You look like you're going to puke," Eddie said, and suddenly Richie felt a cool hand against his forehead. He tried to focus, brow furrowing, and realized that Eddie was a lot closer than he had been a few moments earlier. "Your forehead is warm. Are you sure you're okay?" 

 

"Yes," Richie said more steadily, grasping Eddie's wrist and pulling his hand away, shaking his head. "I'm fine. I just thought I remembered something— but it was nothing." 

 

Consent is sexy. 

 

He felt a shiver go down his spine, then he finally shook it off. 

 

"Sorry," he mumbled, starting to walk again. "I'm fine." 

 

The rest of the Losers fell in around him, and Richie glanced down, letting go of Eddie's wrist hastily. The brunet immediately caught his fingers and laced them together with his own, hidden by the mass off friends surrounding them. Richie didn't look down, afraid that it would disappear. A comfortable smile started to spread across his face, danger passing. Out of sight, out of mind. 

 

When they got outside, the last of the rain was letting up, and Eddie let go of Richie's hand when the group began to separate. The curly-haired man missed the warmth immediately but didn't say so, shuffling over to Mike and standing by his side. 

 

"Everyone ready?" The man asked. Richie couldn't help but stare at Eddie, who grasped his mug tightly in his hands, staring down at it with a soft smile. Richie grinned, suddenly wishing that he had gotten the bag that the store clerk had offered, but Eddie just dropped the souvenir into his vast raincoat pocket, zipping the thing shut. 

 

"Ready," Bev said, and there were a few murmurs of agreement. Richie shuffled his feet restlessly, watching the way the breeze toyed with Eddie's hair, causing it to flutter around his forehead. Eddie caught him staring and squinted, sticking out his tongue. Richie just winked, biting his bottom lip and enjoying the way Eddie's cheeks darkened as he quickly looked away. 

 

"Alright," Mike said, clapping his hands together. "I'll meet you guys back at the library tonight. Deal?" 

 

"Deal," everyone said in unison. There were a few separate goodbyes, and maybe Richie snuck Eddie a much unappreciated, dramatic hand kiss— though, 'snuck' wasn't the right word. Bev snickered and Bill rolled his eyes. 

 

Then the group split, and they all headed their separate ways. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Derry, 1989 

 

 

Richie hated it when his parents fought. 

 

"I don't want to go home," he would whisper once he and Eddie were the only ones left at the clubhouse— a rare occurrence, but one of his favorites. It was one of the only times that Eddie would act like he actually enjoyed Richie's company. 

 

"Are they fighting again?" Eddie whispered back. Richie nodded faintly, staring at the wall of dirt from where he lay in the hammock. A warm body was pressed against his, arms curled around his middle, and Eddie's head lay against his collarbone. Richie's arms were draped loosely around the boy, but he wasn't paying much attention to the closeness, another rare thing— normally he would be on high alert when Eddie climbed into the hammock with him. Today he couldn't focus on anything other than what was waiting for him at home. 

 

"I would ask you to come to mine, but you know how Ma can be," Eddie murmured, fingertips brushing the buttons of Richie's Hawaiian shirt. "I don't want you to get screamed at." 

 

"I probably will anyway," Richie mumbled, and tugged at his friend's shoulder. Eddie sighed and shifted his body upwards so that he could bury his face in Richie's neck, hugging him a big more fully. 

 

"I'm sorry, 'Chee. I would stay here all night with you if I could." The feeling of Eddie's lips moving against the skin on Richie's neck sent a shiver down the taller boy's spine. He lifted his arms, wrapping one around Eddie's waist and curling the other up around his shoulder, fingers burying themselves in the hair at the base of the brunet's neck. 

 

"So stay," Richie said, but it came out as more of a beg than it did a suggestion. He allowed his eyes to flutter shut, breathing in the smell of his best friend and enjoying the moment while it lasted. 

 

"I can't," Eddie grunted, eyelashes tickling Richie's neck when he blinked. Said boy giggled, tilting his head to cover up the sensitive area. Eddie pulled his head back, hair flopping into his eyes— he hadn't done it up all fancy that day. It was soft and fluffy. For a minute, it was all Richie could do to just look up at him, framed by the light of whatever candles they had lit earlier, smiling, freckles dotting his cheeks, hair hanging down in front of his eyes. 

 

I love you, Richie thought, and he almost said it aloud, biting his tongue at the last moment. 

 

"Hey Eds," he said instead, smiling lazily. "You're cute." 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," Eddie said, cheeks turning pink. "Don't call me Eds." 

 

"I'm not kidding," Richie grumbled, reaching up and pinching one of those freckled cheeks. Not hard, but enough that Eddie swatted his hand away, grinning. 

 

"Neither am I," he said, brow furrowing. He sat up, legs dangling off the hammock on either side of Richie's hips. "But don't change the subject. Look at me, 'Chee." He reached down and placed a hand on Richie's face, pushing his head to the side until their gazes met. Richie forced another smile, much weaker this time. 

 

"I don't want to go," he repeated, shrugging meekly. "I don't think they'd even notice if I spent the night down here." 

 

"Bullshit," Eddie insisted. "Besides, you know how cold it gets down here, even in the summer. Come on. I'll walk you there." He swung his leg over and stood up. Richie shivered, the loss of a warm body hitting him very suddenly, but then he was being dragged to his feet. He fell forward onto the boy, hugging him again and groaning. 

 

"Noooooo, Spaghetti. Let me stay here." He frowned when Eddie pulled away, shoving his shoes onto his feet and tossing Richie's over. The taller boy reluctantly began slipping his own on and followed his friend up the ladder and out of the clubhouse after blowing out the last few candles. 

 

It was much darker outside than he had expected it to be. They let the hatch shut behind them, and Eddie turned around with flushed cheeks, reaching out and taking Richie's hand gently. Their fingers laced together as they walked through the trees, and Richie frowned deeply, staring at his feet and kicking a few twigs. 

 

"I'll come get you as early as I can tomorrow," Eddie eventually said, squeezing Richie's hand. "We can go to the quarry together." 

 

"It's supposed to be rainy tomorrow," Richie mumbled, squeezing back. 

 

"So what? When has that ever stopped you?" Eddie asked, and Richie sneaked a peek at the mischievous grin on Eddie's face. 

 

"Your mom won't let you out if it's raining," he said, viewing the break in the trees where they met the road and slowing down so he could hold Eddie's hand a little bit longer. "Don't worry about me, Eds. I'm okay. Seriously." 

 

"I don't want you to be alone," the brunet mumbled, stopping. Richie stopped too, turning to look at him. They were about to exit the woods. Eddie came closer, stood on his tiptoes and placed a kiss on Richie's cheek. "You still have that mixtape I gave you?" He murmured against Richie's skin. 

 

"Of course I do," Richie answered. "I listen to it every time they start fighting." 

 

"So listen to it tonight," Eddie told him, a hint of a smile on his face. "And I'll listen to the one you gave me. That way, neither of us will be without the other." 

 

"Okay," Richie agreed. "Goodnight, Eds." 

 

"Goodnight, 'Chee," The boy said, not bothering to correct him. They let go of each other and parted ways. 

 

Richie looked back once he had gotten to the top of the first hill just in time to see Eddie disappearing around the corner of his own street, much closer than anyone else's to their favorite place to hang out. Sighing softly to himself, Richie started walking again. 

 

His house wasn't that much further away— just an extra five or ten minutes. He tried to make it last longer. He could hear the shouting from the front porch. 

 

Richie opened and closed the front door as quietly as he could, flinching at every curse and shout that ricochet down the hall. Avoiding every creaky floorboard like the devil and grabbing an unopened package of pretzels on his way through the kitchen, Richie stopped just outside the living room. His room was up the stairs on the other side. The two booming voices flooded from the only lit room in the house, and Richie took a breath, stepping in and making a break for the stairs. 

 

"Where do you think you're going, young man?" His father asked, freezing him in his tracks halfway across the room. Richie turned slowly and straightened his posture instinctively, clasping his hands behind his back along with the pretzels. 

 

"To bed, sir," Richie said, avoiding eye contact. "I have to get up early tomorrow." 

 

"You're home late," Wentworth said cooly. "You didn't take your shoes off before you came in and you're getting dirt all over the floor your mother spent all day cleaning." Richie looked down at his feet and saw that they were, in fact, clad with his sneakers which were caked with mud from the clubhouse floor. 

 

"I-I'm sorry, sir," Richie said, looking down. 

 

"Don't apologize to me," Wentworth growled. "Apologize to your mother." 

 

"It's really alright, Wentworth—" Maggie started to say, but he cut her off. 

 

"I said apologize." 

 

Richie swallowed thickly and looked up at his mother. Her eyes were red, and her hair was a mess. She was shaking. Hatred towards his father started to broil in Richie's stomach, but he put a lid on it, struggling to remain calm. 

 

"Sorry, Mom," he whispered. 

 

"Speak up," Wentworth demanded. 

 

"He apologized!" Maggie protested. "That's enough." 

 

"I'll decide when it's enough," Wentworth snarled, turning on his wife. Richie dropped his pretzels, eyes widening as his muscles tensed. "Who is the head of this household?" 

 

"You," Maggie whimpered, backing away. 

 

"Me," Wentworth agreed. "Learn your place." 

 

Richie was there before the man's hand had even wound all the way up for the strike. He shoved his mother back, stumbling when a stinging pain erupted in his cheek. His mother screamed, grasping at the back of his shirt as he clutched his face, blinking away tears. 

 

"How many times do I have to tell you not to get in the way?!" Wentworth roared. "You know how expensive those glasses were." And suddenly the world was blurry as they were torn from his face. Richie tried to stand tall, holding his mother behind him and edging her along the wall towards the hallway so she could steal her way into the bathroom. 

 

A deep ache spread throughout Richie's face when his father's fist drove into it for a second time, connecting with his right eye and sending him reeling backwards. 

 

"I'm just shocked you even noticed I was here," he managed to choke out, but all he earned himself was another smack to the other cheek. They finally reached the hallway, and Richie and Maggie split, Richie headed for the stairs, Maggie for the bathroom. He heard the door slam and the lock click as he scrambled up the steps, footfalls thundering after him as he dove into his room, closing and locking his own door. 

 

Tears started to make his vision swim even more— at least, vision through the eye that wasn't already beginning to swell shut. He grabbed his Walkman off of his dresser and checked it, squinting very hard— sure enough, it was Eddie's mixtape. He struggled to read the message that was wedged into the casing in neat, looping handwriting, even though he had it memorized: 

 

"Dear Richie, 

 

Sometimes I listen to music, too, you ass. These reminded me of you— or of us. I doubt you miss me most of the time, but if you ever do, listen to these. It'll be like I'm right there with you. 

 

Love, your Eds." 

 

Richie let himself slide down his door and to the ground, frowning out his father's shouts with the melody of the first song. Richie closed his eyes— or, eye— and breathed. 

 

For a minute, he almost convinced himself that he was still in the clubhouse, and a warm body was snuggled up against his, and it was actually okay— 

 

But then one particularly loud shout shattered the perfect reality, and Richie curled up, hugging the device to his chest, chasing after it like a butterfly in the wind. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο 

 

 

Richie's house didn't look like anyone had lived in it for a long time. 

 

"Most of the civilization in Derry moved closer to the center of town." Mike stood by Richie's side, looking up at the building with squinted eyes. Richie would have told him to go away, but he didn't have it in him to be alone as the unbearable feeling of missing faded with the impact of the memory. 

 

"I hated this house," he commented, before walking up the steps and kicking the door opened. It swung on contact, much to his surprise, and he actually stumbled through with the momentum, catching himself of the wall of the entrance hall. "All I remember anymore is my mom and dad always fighting. Getting in the way when he'd try to hit her. Other days, they'd hardly acknowledge me at all." He started to move through the kitchen, running his fingertips along the dusty surfaces. "Mom wanted a girl, anyway. I just wasn't gonna cut it." 

 

Whether I liked boys or not, he thought to himself with little humor. 

 

"Did they stick around after you left?" Mike asked. 

 

"Yeah, actually," Richie replied, making his way now into the living room and avoiding the spot where he had been struck only moments before in his memories. "Most of this stuff is theirs. Nobody ever bought after they died, and I didn't want any of it— so they just left it all. I bet the only thing they took are the clothes and food for Goodwill and stuff." He parred a couch cushion and sneezed when a blast of dust came rushing up off of it. "Nasty." 

 

He stood at the foot of the stairs, looking up at his bedroom door, for a long minute. 

 

"You never had any of us over here," Mike said, approaching him and looking up as well. 

 

"Eddie came over a bunch," Richie told him. "Slept over once or twice, when they were having a good week. We'd lock ourselves in my room for a whole two days and live off of coke and pretzels, reading whatever comics I had and talking about whatever came to mind." He smiled a little bit, starting up the stairs and entering his room, glancing around. 

 

It was exactly like he left it before leaving for college. 

 

"I see they didn't redecorate," Mike mused, kicking at a pile of comic books that toppled over onto the floor. "These might be worth something now, you know." 

 

"Yeah, but what's more valuable than nostalgia?" Richie asked, picking one up and flipping through it. "This one came out the day Stan gave us those shower caps— I was reading it when he handed them out." 

 

"You remember that?" Mike laughed, and Richie handed him the comic, grinning. 

 

"Of course I do. I called them stupid— you should have seen how fast Eddie ripped his off." He chuckled, shaking his head. "God, I loved messing with him." 

 

"You liked seeing him squirm," Mike said, wiggling his eyebrows. Richie flushed and looked away, smile fading. 

 

"I guess I did," he murmured, turning in place and then crossing to his old desk in the corner of the room. He shifted through all of the old, empty pretzel bags, brushing them aside, and his heart skipped a beat when his fingers hit something solid. 

 

"Holy shit," he breathed, pulling the Walkman out from under the trash. It looked just as it had when he last saw it— worn down, used, but still in one piece. The slot for the tape was hanging open, and something was sticking out of it. Richie laughed breathlessly, pulling the tape out and flipping it over. A square of paper stuck out of the corner of the tape and he pulled it out, unfolding it and reading the note Eddie had written for him well over twenty-seven years ago. 

 

"Wow," Mike said, voice sounding right next to Richie's ear. Richie jumped, pulling the note to his chest and scowling at the man, who looked rather smug. "'Love, your Eds'," Mike mimicked in a high-pitched voice. 

 

"Fuck off, Farmer Boy!" Richie said, blushing furiously. He slipped the Walkman onto his belt and slung the headphones around his neck, putting the tape back in and shoving the folded up note into his pocket. 

 

"You guys were hopeless," Mike chuckled. "Still are." 

 

"We were not!" Richie protested, leaving his room and heading down the stairs. "I was the hopeless one." He froze, a hand lifting to cover his mouth. But it was too late. 

 

"You were both pretty hopeless, Rich," Mike said, casually, as if Richie hadn't said anything shocking. "You danced around each other for years— and one day, boom. You two were—" 

 

"We were what?" Richie asked, heart pounding. "Did we get together? I think I would remember that." 

 

"I think the word you're looking for is inseparable," Mike supplied. "I mean, you were before, but it was different somehow. It was like, no matter where we were, you had to be close to each other, or you didn't know what to do with yourselves." 

 

"It was probably just me," Richie mumbled, exiting the house. He started down the street, and Mike sped up until they were walking side by side. 

 

"God, Rich, your glasses really don't help you at all, do they?" Mike asked. "He had it just as bad as you— all that teasing, and sass? He just didn't know how to deal with your flirting. He was the most awkward kid I ever knew. Of course he was never going to tell you how he felt." They rounded a corner and began up a hill, Mike waiting patiently, Richie contemplating. 

 

"I loved him, Mikey," Richie finally said, and hearing the words out loud coming from himself, not rushed, or forced like they had been when Eddie found out last time, was actually a lot more of a relief than he had thought it would be. 

 

"Do you still love him?" Mike asked. The townhouse was coming into view. Richie felt the walk hadn't been this short on the way there— but he tried not to worry. 

 

"Of course I still love him," Richie murmured, speeding up a little and approaching the place he was staying for the night. He stopped once he was on the front steps, turning to face Mike and searching for the words he had wanted to say for so long. "He's—" Richie hesitated, reaching up and rubbing his eyes under his glasses. "Eddie is like... Eddie is like all of the colors in my sky," he said, gesturing up at the russet-orange clouds. The sun was almost completely set. "He's like the air I breathe— He's the sun rising over the horizon every morning, and shining down on my life. He's the light that I keep on in the closet every night because I'm still afraid of what might be in there." Richie took a breath, shaking his head. "He's my music that I listen to when I need to calm down— or drown out my parents fighting, back in the day," he said, gesturing to the Walkman. "He's the name that was always on the tip of my tongue whenever I thought about where I came from. He's home. He's safe." Richie shrugged, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. "He's just... Eddie." 

 

"Jesus, Rich." Mike was shaking his head, a smile stretching across his face. 

 

"I know," he muttered, averting his eyes and blushing. "I know, Mikey." 

 

"So what are you gonna do about it?" The man asked, folding his arms over his chest. Richie hesitated, glancing down the street as a small figure stormed up the sidewalk, once again covered in some dark liquid, and even from this far away he could hear the violent string of curses flooding from the person's mouth. He smiled. 

 

"I don't know, Mike. But whatever it is, I'd better do it fast." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie knew what was coming this time, and he was determined to keep it from becoming a reality. Mike had wandered on his way back to the library, confident that Richie wasn't going anywhere, and Eddie showed up mere moments later, filthy and fuming. Richie opened the door and held it for him, following close behind on the way up the stairs. The moment he walked through the door it was like the caution fled his mind. 

 

Bev and Ben were sitting on the stairs, and both looked up as the pair entered, startled. 

 

"Eddie!" Bev said, getting to her feet. "Are you okay—?" 

 

"I'm fine, excuse me," Eddie said in a rush of breath, scrambling up the stairs on wobbling legs. Richie shrugged at both of them, before following the man all the way to the second floor. 

 

He saw the brunet fumbling with the lock to his door, and he took pity. 

 

"Eds," he murmured, drawing the small hunk of metal away and unlocking the door himself. "You want me to turn on the shower for you?" 

 

"Don't call me that," the man tried, but the usual venom behind his words was gone. "Thank you, Rich." 

 

They walked into the room together, and Richie entered the bathroom. He glanced at the counter, unable to stifle a grin at the way all of Eddie's medications were overflowing the surface, barely fitting in the carryons. 

 

"Hot, warm, or cold?" He shouted, turning the faucet behind the curtain and checking the water pressure. It wasn't the best, but it would have to do. 

 

"Hot!" Eddie's voice squeaked back, cracking a bit, and Richie complied, turning up the heat and feeling to make sure it wasn't going to burn his friend. Once he was satisfied that it was a good temperature, he turned to leave. 

 

"Going somewhere, Faggot?" 

 

A fiery pain exploded in Richie's shoulder, quickly fading into a dull ache. He let out a pained shout, falling back and through the shower curtains, hot water spraying down. 

 

Henry Bowers stood over him, old, withered, and every bit as crazy as he had been in his childhood. Heart beating a thousand miles per hour, Richie reached up and fumbled with the hilt of whatever was sticking out of his shoulder— cool metal brushed against his fingers, but underneath, around his shirt, he could feel a warm sticky substance, and when he pulled his hand away he saw red. 

 

"Richie?! What's going on?" Eddie entered the room, and Richie blinked water out of his eyes, shrieking when Henry reached down and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. He was lifted out of the tub and thrown down onto the bathroom floor. 

 

"Looks like your boyfriend is here to save you!" Henry cackled, driving a kick into Richie's side. The man howled, scrunching himself up and rolling onto his stomach. Eddie has disappeared. Richie hoped to God that he was getting out of there when hands grasped the back of his shirt, heaving him upwards and slamming him against the wall. 

 

"Remember this, Tozier?" Henry asked, and Richie could feel his breath, hot against his cheek. Blinded by the pain of the knife still very much lodged in his shoulder and now pressed against the wall, Richie didn't answer, but his mind was another story— 

 

Flashes of darkness, amber eyes, and a never-ending tunnel— 

 

The splitting pain in his lower half as it felt like something was tearing him apart from the inside out— 

 

Maniacal laughter as he blacked out and slumped to the ground, just a hollow heap of limbs— 

 

Then his shoulder throbbed, and Richie came back to reality. He screamed out, throwing all of his body weight back against the man behind him. Henry stumbles back with a shout, and Richie reached up, ripping the switchblade from his shoulder. The pain was nearly too much to bear. He cried out, clutching his shoulder tightly. 

 

"Richie!" A voice shouted from outside the room. Richie walked into the main part of Eddie's room, feet dragging, bumping into walls and door frames. 

 

"Get back here, you little fag!" Henry roared. The short and pudgy man came running out of the bathroom. Richie turned and thrust the knife forward just as he made a lunge— burying it to the hilt in the man's stomach fat. 

 

"Get away from me!" He shouted, pulling it back out and stumbling backwards. He fell back onto Eddie's bed, pushing himself further away still until he hit the headboard. Henry was reached towards him, strangled noises bubbling from his throat. 

 

The door burst open and Bill charged in, taking one look at Henry and taking a swing. The man went down, rolling around and twitching a little bit. 

 

"Bill!" Richie yelled, tossing the knife to the end of the bed. Bill took the blade and fell to his knees, driving it into the mass that was still squirming. A terrible screech filled the room, and Richie cowered, clamping his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut. He felt light-headed— If he passed out, what then? If he died, would it still reset again? Would he get another chance? 

 

"Richie!" Suddenly someone was by his side, pressing firmly on his shoulder, and Richie gasped, flailing against the touch, but another pair of hands pressed him back. He struggled against their holds, choking on his own spit. 

 

"Let me go!" He begged. "Don't touch me!" 

 

"Stay still, Richie, please—" That was Bev— she was on his left, holding his shoulder, ripping the Hawaiian shirt and the white t-shirt underneath it to gain better access—

 

"Come on, man," Ben's voice sounded in his right ear. Richie tried to calm down, go slack in their grip, but he couldn't breathe, he couldn't see, he couldn't—

 

"It's okay, 'Chee." Warm breath hit Richie's cheek and he finally took a deep, gulping breath of air. "You're going to be fine," Eddie continued, and Richie became aware of the sensation of two hands clutching one of his tightly between themselves. He took deep, stuttering breaths, flinching every once in a while when something in his shoulder sent a stab of pain down the rest of his body. 

 

After a few long minutes, the noise seemed to fade, and he was laying against the mattress limply, breaths coming long and slow. He dared to open his eyes, met with the sight of a white ceiling framed by the faces of his remaining friends. 

 

"Oh my God, he opened his eyes," Beverly gasped. "Are you okay, Richie? I tried to stitch it shut— His knife wasn't that big— but you lost a lot of blood before I got to you, and—" 

 

"Let him wake up, Bev!" Ben soothed, and Beverly fell silent, biting her knuckle and looking on with furrowed eyebrows. 

 

"H-How do you fuh-fuh-feel, Rich?" Bill asked. He sat at the foot of the bed, hands covered in blood, hair a mess of tangled strands atop his head. 

 

"Okay," Richie murmured, and surprisingly, it wasn't a lie— His shoulder stung and aches deeply, and he still felt the lingering fight-or-flight instincts, but he started to sit up without much difficulty. The hand that was still clutching his squeezed as he went, and everyone flew to his side to help. He felt dizzy for a moment, but he just closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. 

 

"Was it bad?" He managed to ask after a moment. Bev started to answer, but Richie's attention shifted, and he followed the arm of the hands that were squeezing his so tightly to find a pale and terrified Eddie at the other end. 

 

"You should be fine," Bev finished after a minute or two, and everyone fell silent, watching the two Losers stare at each other. 

 

"Do you guys need to be alone?" Mike asked. Richie stiffened, looking over at the librarian and shaking his head. But he just smirked, backing towards the door. "Because we can leave you alone." 

 

"Yeah," Bev added, getting up and following with Ben in tow. "Just don't take too long— We think it's about time to head out. If you think you can, Rich." 

 

"No, wait—" Richie started to protest, but Bill had gotten up and hurried after the others, winning as he closed the door behind him. Richie slumped back against the headboard, and looked over at Eddie, who seemed to never have looked away, panicked expression unwavering. The sound of the shower still running in the background soothed Richie further, and he tried not to let himself get too nervous. 

 

"I thought—" Eddie broke off, shaking his head and finally looking away. "I thought you were going to die." 

 

"Aw, come on, Eds," Richie tried to joke, smiling a little painfully. "It was just a scratch." 

 

"Look at my fucking sheets, Rich," Eddie demanded, scowling. "It's not funny. I thought it was my turn to watch you die." Richie three a quick look at the blankets and his stomach twisted at the amount of redness on the light linens. 

 

"I'm okay, though," he offered, shrugging and immediately regretting it as a stab of pain ripped its way down his left side. "I heard you, by the way," he mumbled, cheeks warming up. "When I was, you know, freaking it up. I heard you." 

 

"I hoped so," Eddie murmured, but he was blushing too. "It was stupid, but I thought maybe I could help you calm down if I just spoke quieter than everyone else." 

 

"That's not stupid," Richie protested. "It worked, didn't it?" 

 

"I guess." Eddie smiled, looking down. "I'm so sorry, Richie." 

 

"For what? You didn't do anything wrong," Richie replied, frowning. Eddie looked back up with tears in his eyes, and Richie's breath hitched. 

 

"This was supposed to be me," Eddie whispered hoarsely. "He was in my room. He wanted me. If I hadn't made you set up a stupid shower maybe you'd be okay." 

 

"Eds, I'm fine," Richie insisted. "Come here, look at me." Eddie shifted closer, though his gaze barely grazed Richie's face, so the taller man pulled his hand away from the brunet's and reached up, directing his head towards him. "I'm okay," he assured, even smiling a little bit. "And this?" He gestured to his shoulder. "Not your fault. It's his." He nodded to where Henry's body lay, making a grim face. "That's that. But if it really would make you feel better to hear it, I forgive you." 

 

Eddie sniffled a little bit, and Richie ran his thumb tenderly along the man's cheek, brushing the tears away just as they began to fall. 

 

"What are all these crocodile tears for?" He whispered, leaning forward and resting their foreheads together. "Don't cry over me, Eds." 

 

"Don't call me that," Eddie cried, shoulders shaking. 

 

"Come on, now, Spaghetti," Richie chuckled. "You love it. And you know you do." 

 

And if Eddie didn't deny it, then who was Richie to say anything that might change that? 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When he first stood up, Richie had almost needed to sit back down. His knees wobbled violently and his vision swam. He could feel himself beginning to sweat. Eddie was pressed up to his side, holding him upright, and Richie tried not to lean too heavily on the man, but he knew he was going to need to use the support for a while. 

 

"You're okay," Eddie kept assuring him, the arm that was curled around his waist squeezing every so often. The first time he did that Richie had jumped a little bit, cheeks darkening, but Eddie either didn't notice or didn't care, because he didn't react. They took slow steps towards the door, and Eddie opened it for them so Richie wouldn't have to move his arm. 

 

"Thanks, Eds," Richie mumbled. "I don't suppose we have time for that shower now, do we?" 

 

"Don't call me that," Eddie said, but he was grinning. He had turned the water off before Richie got up. "Be careful on the stairs. Are you still dizzy?" 

 

"Yep." Richie blinked a few times, shaking his head. "Got any sugar on you, Spaghetti?" 

 

"Sugar pills, but I don't know if they'll work the same way that chocolate would," Eddie said. "They're back in my room. Want me to grab some?" 

 

"What have you got sugar pills for?" Richie remarked, quirking a brow. Eddie just smiled, looking down at his feet. 

 

"Placebos," he explained. "Old habits die hard. I know it's not the real thing, but sometimes it makes me feel better to take them anyway." 

 

"I'd get you off of that so fast," Richie grumbled, pulling away and leaning against the wall. "If you lived with me." 

 

"Why would I live with you?" Eddie countered, smirking, and Richie just rolled his eyes. 

 

"Because we're married, duh," he said. "Go on, now, get that crack." 

 

"It's not crack, Richie!" Eddie scowled, but went anyway, and Richie took a breath, letting his head fall back against the wall. 

 

"Everything okay?" 

 

He tilted his head to see Bev at the top of the stairs, brow furrowed. Richie managed a tired smile, closing his eyes. 

 

"Just peachy, my darlin' girl," he replied in a bad Southern accent. "You're not from around these parts, are you? People gettin' stabbed all the time. No big deal." She giggled, approaching and leaning back beside him. 

 

"Mike is a mess down there," she mused. "He's terrified that we'll have to wait until you're healed to do something about this shithole." 

 

"Tel him I'm fine," Richie told her. "Once we get walking and I get some fresh air I'll be totally 100%." She eyed him doubtfully as Eddie came back out of his room with a plastic bag in his hands. 

 

"Hey, Bevvie," the man greeted, handing the bag to Richie and resuming his earlier position. Richie leaned into his friend's side, pressing his cheek into his hair. Eddie didn't say anything, and Richie was actually a bit relieved, because he was afraid that if he pulled away now he would never come back. 

 

"Hey, Eddie," the woman replied, sidling up to Richie's other side and very gently guiding the man's arm over her own shoulder. He hissed when the skin around the shoulder stretched with his movement and she slowed, sliding gently into the crook of his armpit and supporting a bit more of his weight as they braved the stairs. 

 

"Okay," he grunted once they had reached the middle of the staircase and almost fallen twice. "Let me walk on my own." Reluctantly, both participants slipped away. Eddie's fingers still hovered over Richie's waist, and the taller man bit back a smile, grasping either railing on the stairs and beginning to move. 

 

"That wasn't so bad," he huffed once he reached the bottom, turning and smiling up at the other two. Eddie was pale, watching him with nervous eyes. Richie's heart sped up a little bit when the brunet rushed back to his side, securing his place once again and walking him over to the others. 

 

"I can walk fine, Eddie. I just got down the stairs on my own, didn't I?" Richie pointed out. He opened the baggie Eddie had given him and dry-swallowed the pills, grimacing as he felt them slide down his throat at an agonizingly slow pace. 

 

"It's better to be safe than sorry, Richie," was all the man said in return, clutching his waist a little tighter. Richie just shook his head with a soft chuckle, glancing around at the rest of his friends. Mike was pacing, but he paused to look up at the sound of voices. Bill was sitting— Ben stood looking rather lost. 

 

"You're okay?" Mike asked, eyes widening. "Can we go now?" 

 

"Yes." 

 

"No." 

 

Richie and Eddie spoke simultaneously. Richie reached around to clasp his hand over Eddie's mouth and spoke again. "Yeah, we're ready. I just need to get back into the swing of things and I'll feel better in no time." 

 

"Well I think we should drive there anyway," Bev said doubtfully. "Richie's in no condition to use more energy than absolutely necessary." 

 

"I don't think he should go anywhere yet," Eddie objected, picking Richie's hand away from his face with a disgusted look. "He could tear his stitches and bleed out, or pass out from the blood he's lost already, or—" 

 

"I appreciate your concern, Spaghetti, but this really isn't something that can wait for a scratch to heal," Richie pointed out. 

 

"This isn't a fucking scratch, Richie!" Eddie nearly shouted, and Richie suddenly noticed the tears swimming in the man's eyes. "You got fucking stabbed. Can you be a fucking adult for five seconds?! You could have died." 

 

"Yeah, and I'd rather forget that sooner than later, so can we get the ball rolling and kill this motherfucker?" Richie pleaded. Eddie let go of him and stepped back very quickly, and Richie immediately started to lose his balance, swaying. As if proving a point, Eddie gestured to him. Richie scowled, steadying himself and straightening his body. 

 

"I'm fine," he insisted. "Stop trying to hold us back. I know you're scared." Eddie looked away, and Richie could hear his breaths shaking. "We all are," Richie continued more gently. "But we have to do this now. And if I'm the one that dies this time, that's just the way it is. You move on. You kill It, go home to your wife, and forget all about me. Never have to worry about my stupid ass again." 

 

"I will always worry about your stupid ass," Eddie snarled. Richie walked over to him and ruffled his hair, chuckling when the man ducked away with a hushed curse. 

 

"But won't it be so relieving when you don't have to?" He reasoned. Eddie regarded him with careful eyes, frowning deeply. 

 

"No," he grumbled. "Worrying about your stupid ass is one of the only things I missed about this shit town. It made me feel important." 

 

"You're important, worrying about me or not," Richie told him. "But right now, I'm going to fight a demonic clown, and if you don't worry enough to follow me down there then we might have a few problems here." He grinned, brushing a tear off of Eddie's cheek with his thumb. The brunet gave a watery laugh, sniffling a little and taking a deep breath. "If it makes you feel better, you can still help me out to the car," Richie offered, and Eddie nodded reluctantly, sliding back against him and wrapping his arm around the taller man's hips once more. 

 

"So... Are you two, like, good now?" Bev asked. Richie looked up to see everyone staring from the doorway, Bill and Mike smug, Ben confused, and Beverly knowing. His cheeks darkened.

 

"We're good," he said firmly. "But can we stop at the pharmacy on the way by? I want a chocolate bar." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie, Eddie and Beverly piled out of the car at the Center Street Drug Store and Richie couldn't help but smirk knowingly at Eddie as they filed inside past Greta Keene herself, earning himself nothing but a punch to the shoulder that resulted in a flash of white and a ragged gasp. Eddie went pale and his hands flew out to steady Richie, uttering rushed apologies, abject terror in his gaze while Beverly nearly choked on tears of laughter around the corner. 

 

"Oh my God, shut up, I was kidding," Richie snorted, shoving the shorter man and watching as he stumbled into one of the shelves, knocking a few things down. Beverly had to cover her mouth to contain her giggles, and Richie threw his arms up to prefect his face as Eddie came at him with flying hands and a furious expression upon his face. 

 

"Ow, ow, stop, mercy!" He begged under his breath, stomach beginning to ache with all of his laughter. "I is sorry, mistah kaspbrak! I is sorry!" 

 

"You're such a fucking dickbag," Eddie hissed, face still bright red. "Pick out your fucking chocolate bar." 

 

"Wanna share it with me, baby?" He purred into Eddie's ear, backing him up against the shelf and grabbing a dark chocolate bar over his shoulder. He pushed his face real close. "I can put a piece in my mouth and feed it to you like a mama bird—" 

 

"Oh my God, I'm gonna puke—" Eddie gagged, shoving Richie aside and fleeing towards the front counter. Beverly snagged a pack of chips on her way out of the aisle and Richie fell into step beside her, sighing contentedly. 

 

"You are so obvious," she snickered, bumping her shoulder against his good one. Richie placed a hand on his chest, raising his eyebrows. 

 

"Moi? Whatever do you mean?" He asked. She just snorted, shaking her head. 

 

"God, Tozier, you're whipped," she told him, before jogging to catch up with Eddie at the front counter. Richie just shrugged one shoulder and made his way over, throwing down the candy bar and grabbing a discreet handful of pixie-sticks that became less discreet when he threw them down on top of the rest of their items— including a pack of cigarettes that Bev seemed to be planning to actually purchase this time around. Richie remembered with a small smile the time they had stolen the supplies to help out a heavy and profusely bleeding Ben Hanscom. 

 

Eddie covered everything, despite Richie's protests, and took the bag with a soft mumble of thanks. Richie noticed his gaze flick nervously towards the door to the back of the pharmacy, and he frowned, but kept silent for once in his life. On the way out the door, Greta watched them, a huge bubble of gum protruding from her crude mouth. Richie slipped a small folded up bill into Eddie's back pocket and smacked his ass, winking at the woman as he walked by and snatching a piece of gum from the pack she was holding. 

 

"You're fucking dead, Trashmouth," Eddie snarled, turning on him as soon as they were out of the store. He handed the plastic bag to Bev and started to push up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. 

 

"Oh, are we fighting now?" Richie asked, grinning. "We gonna fight, Eds?" 

 

"Don't call me that, Richie," Eddie warned. 

 

"Or what, Eds?" Richie poked at him, jabbing his cheek with his index finger. "What are you gonna do? Worry me to death?" 

 

"Send you home is what I'm gonna fucking do," Eddie retorted. "Throw you in the back of my car and drive you home." 

 

"Ooh, and are we gonna get down and dirty when we get there?" Richie laughed, enjoying the way Eddie's cheeks once again turned scarlet. 

 

"I don't know, maybe," he snarked. "If you're a lucky man, maybe." 

 

"I'm feeling pretty lucky tonight, Eds," Richie said, tilting his head. "You wanna lay one on me, right here right now? Come on." He tapped his lips, and Eddie just scowled, pulling his sleeves back down. 

 

"Yeah?" He asked, volume beginning to rise, and Richie fought back his laughter, but the shit-eating grin spreading across his face was unable to be hidden. 

 

"Yeah, do it. I fuckin' dare you. You won't." 

 

"Oh, I won't?" Eddie asked, getting closer, the crease between his eyebrows deepening. "I really fucking won't? How much do you wanna bet?" 

 

"All the money I slipped in your pocket on the way out of there," Richie purred, leaning forward so his mouth grazed Eddie's ear. He could feel how hot the man's cheek was against his. 

 

"That's it," Eddie grumbled. Before Richie was fully aware of what was happening, sleeved hands were grasping his face and a pair of soft lips smashed rather ungracefully against his. His eyes flew opened wide and he stopped breathing momentarily as Eddie kissed him briefly, then pulled away, glaring at him. "There." He straightened his sweatshirt, wiped his mouth in his sleeve, and stormed off towards the van. 

 

Richie stood stock-still, frozen in place. His face felt like it was on fire. He couldn't respirate correctly. His heart was beating a thousand times a second. 

 

Eddie had just kissed him, full on the lips. 100% contact. God, he fucking hoped that had been real. The slamming of a car door jolted him back to reality, and he blinked, turning slowly to see the van starting up and the slide door opening to reveal a smirking Beverly. Mike was hanging out of the window on the driver's side, watching with a knowing smile. Bill and Ben stared from over Bev's shoulder, both looking confused— although Bill seemed to be laughing disbelievingly with a shake of his head, 

 

"Get in, Lover Boy!" Beverly shouted, holding his plastic bag of treats up and beckoning him closer— although, Richie wasn't sure any of the treats in that bag amounted to the one he could still just barely taste against his lips. He walked slowly, almost as if he were in a trance, and climbed into the van, sliding the door shut behind him. The plastic bag landed in his lap and he chose a pixie-stik, peeking the top off gingerly and downing the whole thing in one shot. The sugar coated the inside of his mouth as the van started up, engine roaring to life, and he stared directly at the head of the seat in front of him. 

 

"I think this is the quietest he's ever been in his life," Ben remarked from the back row. Richie blinked slowly, opening the next pixie-stik and adding another layer of sugar to his tongue, which was no doubt going to start burning soon. 

 

"Leave it to Eddie to silence someone with true love's first kiss," Bev sighed dreamily. 

 

"Shut up," Eddie mumbled from the passenger seat. "He was being stupid and I put him in his place." 

 

"L-Leave it to us t-t-to have a snack buh-buh-break on the way to fight a d-demonic clown," Bill said, and the calmness in his voice resulted in a solitary moment of pure silence. Then the entire van erupted into giggles, including Richie, mid-pour of his next tube of pure sugar. The grains spilled everywhere as it slipped from between his fingers, and he shot forward, slamming his forehead against the seat in front of him in an attempt to grab it. 

 

"Ow!" He whined, sitting back up and pressing his palms to his head. 

 

"Great, you spilled fucking sugar all over my rental," Eddie complained, glaring at him over the back of his seat. 

 

"Oh, Eds," Richie slurred as they hit a pothole and he nearly bit his tongue. "You're the only sugar in my life." 

 

"Oh my God Eddie what have you done to him?" Bev asked, tapping Richie's cheek, but the man just stared ahead of himself at Eddie, who was making a face. 

 

"Oh, only the best things," he sighed, smiling at the brunet. 

 

"It— It was just a joke!" Eddie stammered, blushing furiously and turning back around in his seat. "Put your fucking seatbelt on." Richie did as he was told and ripped another pixie-stik opened, pouring half of it into his mouth. 

 

"Hey Eds," he said, and the brunet turned with suspicious eyes. 

 

"What do you want? Don't call me Eds," he added. Richie held out the candy, wiggling his eyebrows. 

 

"Want some?" He offered. 

 

"What did you do to it?" Eddie asked doubtfully, eyeing the colorful tube with a disgusted look. "I don't want to eat this if it's going to make me puke my guts out or something." 

 

"Oh, you won't puke," Richie assured him. "It's made with all of the love in my heart. Half eaten by yours truly, but I saved some for you, because you're my favorite." 

 

"Oh, goody," Eddie grunted, taking the candy and pouring the last bit into his mouth. His face scrunched up and he gagged, throwing the paper tube back at Richie. "Fucking gross, Richie, how have you already eaten like, five of those?" 

 

"I needed to make sure they were safe before I shared with you, my dear Eds," Richie replied, resting his chin on his hand and watching his friend with exaggeratedly loving eyes. "I love you so much, Spaghetti Man." 

 

"Fuck off," Eddie mumbled, sleeved hands reaching up to cover his face. 

 

"Have we just witnessed a confession?" Ben asked, leaning into the middle row from his seat in the back. 

 

"I think we did," Mike called back, looking at Richie through the rear-view mirror. "Richie?" 

 

"What? No!" He said, sitting up very straight and wincing at the sudden movement in his shoulder. "I'm just high on all of this sugar. Having a bit of a rush, you know?" As if to show, he opened the last two pixie-stiks and downed them simultaneously, throwing them aside when they were empty and starting to cough. "Fucking disgusting, who let me buy all of those?" 

 

"Eddie did it," Beverly said, pointing at the back of the brunet's head. 

 

"What?!" Eddie cried, turning in his seat once again. 

 

"I-I knew we sh-sh-shouldn't have luh-let you guys g-go in alone," Bill tutted, shaking his head. 

 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bev demanded. 

 

"You two are like kids in a fucking candy store, that's what it means," Richie cackled. "Good thing I was there to be the adult in this situation." 

 

"Oh, fuck off, Richie, you were the most childish one in there!" Eddie protested. 

 

"If I was so childish, why did you try to fatally wound me when I'm already injured?" Richie said dramatically, placing a hand gently over his shoulder. "If anyone was the most mature, it was Beverly— she got the precious materials out of the way of our parking lot brawl." 

 

"If you can even call it a brawl," Ben muttered from the back, and Bev giggled, slapping a hand over her mouth. 

 

"You're such a fucking child, Richie, I mean, really?" Eddie spat. "I can't believe you right now." 

 

"I can't believe you!" Richie countered. "Who fucking kisses someone then tells them it was a joke?" 

 

"Are—" Eddie broke off, eyes huge. "Are we seriously— We're gonna do this right now?" 

 

"Yeah, right fuckin' now, Eds!" Richie leaned back in his seat. "Why'd you do that?" 

 

"You dared me, you fucking dipshit!" Eddie shouted, volume beginning to peak. 

 

"Guys—" Bev started to interject, but Richie cut her off. 

 

"Yeah, but nobody told you to actually do it!" He yelled back. "Dare is a fucking kid's game, Eddie—" 

 

"Guh-Guys—" 

 

"Well, you've been acting childish ever since we got here, so stop being a fucking hypocrite—" 

 

"Guys!" Mike shouted, and everyone fell silent, looking out the windows on the right side of the van. 

 

"We're here."

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Pissed and still fuming, Richie stomped away from the group as soon as he was out of the car, clutching his chocolate bar close to his chest. His appetite was lost, but he'd be damned if he was gonna let it fuckin' melt in the car and stain Eddie's precious seats— although, he was rather angry with the man at the moment and it wouldn't burden him much if he had chosen to do so— he supposed he could smear it on the sweatshirt he was still pressing to his shoulder, but it wouldn't be of much use. 

 

"Rich, do you wanna talk about it?" Bev asked, sidling up next to him. Richie glanced up at where the other Losers were putting around on their own, silence having fallen over the group, and sighed. 

 

"Not really," he told her, scowling. "I didn't even want to think about it the whole time I was here."

 

"You like him," she guessed, folding her arms over her chest, and Richie threw his hands up in the air, wincing at the sudden strain in his shoulder. He applied a bit more pressure with the maroon garment, despising the fact that it belonged to the one person who he wasn't interested in speaking to for a long while. 

 

"Why does everyone keep guessing that?" He complained, tearing his gaze away from the sulking brunet and staring at the field across the street. 

 

"Seriously?" She asked, raising her eyebrows. "You two were like, they gayest people I knew when we were kids. There was no hiding it." 

 

"I hid it perfectly fine, thank you," Richie grumbled. "God, next time I'm not telling you guys anything." 

 

"If there is a next time," Bev countered. "You aren't going to let him die on the off chance that you'll reset again, are you?" 

 

"What the fuck, Bev?" Richie said, eyebrows furrowing together. "Of course I'm not gonna let him die, he's my best fucking friend. Besides, I'm not that mad." 

 

"Why are you mad, anyway?" She snipped, wrinkling her nose. "Haven't you wanted him to kiss you since like, second grade?" 

 

"Keep your voice down!" Richie hissed, grimacing. "That's not the point, anyway." 

 

"So what's the blatant point that I'm so carelessly missing, Richie?" She asked, exasperated. 

 

"He only did it for the fucking joke," Richie muttered, and even just saying it made his heart crumble a little bit. He averted his eyes and hugged his arms a little tighter around himself, kicking at the tall grass by his feet. Bev frowned, and Richie hated the pity beginning to leak into her expression. 

 

"Oh, Tozier," she sighed, shaking her head. "If only you knew how untrue that is." 

 

"Well he said it for him fucking self, so..." Richie took a deep breath and angled his body away from her, stomach beginning to knot. She reached out and patted his back gently, shrugging her shoulders and trudging off. Richie started after her as she walked back over to the group, but hesitated to return with her. Scanning his friends, Richie accidentally made eye contact with his best friend. Before he could break it, Eddie was walking over to him. 

 

"Shit," Richie grumbled, straightening his posture then slouching again, crossing his arms then uncrossing them. "Fuck." Eddie was a few feet away. Richie very awkwardly put one hand on his hip, sweatshirt hanging from his arm, and held the chocolate in the other. "Damn it," he said just as Eddie got within speaking-distance, and the brunet gave him a weird look. 

 

"Hi," he said simply, and Richie opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Eddie just looked away, scratching the back of his neck and taking a breath. "I understand that you're upset with me," he began, then muttered something that sounded suspiciously like he was shifting the blame to the Trashmouth himself before continuing, "but I don't want to be fighting with you before we head in there. I know how it's ended for us the last two times and I don't want it to feel like the end of the world if it happens a third." 

 

"Don't say that," Richie said sharply, heart skipping a beat. "Besides... It's too fucking late," he mumbled. "You dying became the end of my world the day we first met, Eds." 

 

"Shut up, Richie," Eddie retorted, but his cheeks became pink, and Richie managed a small smile. 

 

"I'm serious," Richie told him. "Remember that day? When you fell off your bike and skinned your knees?" 

 

"You don't remember that," Eddie insisted. "We weren't even in middle school yet." 

 

"Of course I remember that!" Richie protested. "You went too fast down the hill on my street. You and Bill. You ran me right over and I fell on you close enough to see your face without my glasses." He tapped the lenses as if for show, and Eddie bit his lip to mask his smile, but Richie could see it. Clear as day. "The first thing I saw were two big brown eyes and a freckled nose. Then I got you a bandaid— and from that point on, you were the one who always got me patched up when I fell." 

 

"Or ran into Henry Bowers," Eddie added, laughing. The name was like a punch to the gut, but Richie tried not to let it show, even though a distant memory was screaming to be let out. 

 

"And some things never change, huh, Eds?" Richie asked fondly, tilting his head a little. 

 

"Yeah," Eddie agreed, rubbing his arms. "Some things never do change." 

 

They remained silent for a moment, and Richie finally worked up the courage to ask— more calmly this time— with a nervous smile, "Why did you really kiss me earlier?" 

 

Eddie's cheeks became bright red, and he looked down at his hands, twisting the ring on his right anxiously— the glare of the street lamp reflecting off of it into Richie's eyes was the harsh reminder of what wasn't his— but then Eddie slipped it off and shoved it into his jeans pocket. He met Richie's gaze steadily, and pressed his lips together into a thin smile. 

 

"Because I wanted to know what it was like to kiss someone that I really care about," he replied, choosing his words very carefully. "Dare I say, lo—" 

 

 "Don't," Richie gasped, lurching forward and putting a hand over Eddie's mouth. The man looked up at him with confused eyes, brows furrowed. Richie drew his hand back quickly, as if he had touched a hot stove, and took a few steps back. 

 

"I just—" He started to say, then broke off with a frustrated groan. "I'm terrified that you're going to say something to me," he admitted, voice lowering. "Something you can't take back. And then you're going to remember that you have a wife. You're going to remember that you have a job, and I have a job, and we can't just quit and run off with each other. I'm terrified that you're going to say it, and I'm going to believe you, and you're going to die again." The inside felt like fireworks were going off in his stomach. Richie inhaled shakily, and continued. 

 

"Do you want to share this chocolate with me on the way inside?" He blurted in one long rush of breath. He held up the chocolate bar, and Eddie took a step back, eyeing it with mutual curiosity and disbelief. 

 

"You're seriously asking me that right now?" He said, quirking a brow. "I just almost confessed to you— and you asked if I want to share a candy bar with you on the way inside to fight a demonic clown?" 

 

"Well, yeah," Richie said. "Better now than never." 

 

"That's not how the saying goes, you idiot," Eddie laughed, but he snatched the chocolate bar and peeling it open. "Let's go, Fuckface." 

 

"Whatever, Dickwad," Richie replied, falling into step beside his best friend as they headed back over to the group, breaking the chocolate into pieces. 

 

"One square for Bill." Eddie handed the corner piece to their leader, who looked at it for a moment before managing a small smile and popping it into his mouth. 

 

"One square for Mike," Eddie said next, handing the man the piece of chocolate, and turning. 

 

"One square each for Ben and Beverly." He handed out their respecting squares. Beverly ate hers immediately, and Ben's stomach growled, coaxing a short-lived chorus of laughter out of his friends. 

 

"One for Richie," Eddie said, getting much closer than he had to and pressing the square gently into the palm of Richie's hand. He smiled up at him, looking up through his lashes, and he didn't move. 

 

"One for me," he continued, placing his own piece in his mouth without breaking eye-contact. Richie bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying something to ruin the moment. 

 

"And one for Stan," Eddie finished, holding up the last piece. Everyone fell silent for a single, solitary moment, smiles fading, and they stared at the chocolate with somber eyes. Eddie wrapped it back into the wrapper and tossed it to Richie, who put it in his pocket, grabbed Eddie's hand and turned towards the dreaded house they called number 29 Neibolt Street. 

 

"You guys ready for this?" He asked dully, and Eddie's fingers curled together with his own. A gentle presence pressed up against his side and a head settled against his shoulder. 

 

"W-W-We're ready," Bill said, walking up the stairs and turning around to face them from in front of the door. "F-F-For Stuh-Stuh-Stanley," he announced, and for the first time the entire visit, Richie noticed tears swimming in the man's eyes. Everyone seemed to collectively straighten their postures, drawing closer together into the beginnings of a clump, Eddie never letting go of Richie's hand. 

 

"For Stan," Mike agreed. 

 

"For the Bird Fucker," Richie piped up, earning a smack to the back of the head. 

 

"For my best friend," Eddie spoke out, and Richie squeezed his hand gently just as a reminder that he was there. 

 

"For Stan the Man," Ben said. 

 

"For the bravest of all of us," Beverly finished. 

 

They stood together, and for a moment, they were kids again, and a seventh stood with them, hanging back at the gate. They all turned to look, but he was gone before their eyes could find him. 

 

They turned back around. 

 

Everyone took a collective breath. 

 

They went inside. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Upon entering the house for the third time in what felt like just over 24 hours, Richie was a little underwhelmed. Black, gurgling goop leaked from every crack and hole in the wall, and he simply sighed. 

 

"This place gives me the creeps," Bev muttered as they tried forward, drifting towards the room on their right. Ben and Mike followed. Richie trailed down the hallway, only stopping when a tug on his arm caused him to look back. 

 

Eddie, who's hand was still entangled with his, was staring out the window. Richie scooted back over to him and looked, staring out the tattered and scratched glass at the dying grass. 

 

"That's where I threw my fanny pack last time we came," he said. Richie didn't say anything. "I came back," Eddie admitted, voice lowering and dripping with guilt. "To get it, I mean." 

 

"Really?" Richie whispered. 

 

"Yeah," Eddie replied. "I'm not really proud of it... But it was something I felt like I needed. I've never felt brave without it." 

 

"You were the bravest out of all of us that day," Richie told him. Eddie shook his head, cheeks becoming pink. 

 

"I wasn't," he disagreed. "Maybe you were. You could have led us all away when Pennywise had Bill in a headlock, but you didn't. You grabbed a bat, and you just..." He let go of Richie's hand to mime a swinging motion. "Went to town." 

 

"Yeah," Richie conceded, shrugging slightly. "But who else stayed?" Eddie looked down, and Richie saw goosebumps erupting all over his arms. He draped the sweatshirt over Eddie's shoulders, and the man wrinkled his nose at the blood-soaked material but shoved his arms through the sleeves anyway. 

 

"I did," he relented, and Richie nodded, wrapping an arm around the man's shoulders. 

 

"Who jumped down into the middle of a dirty river, leading the pack when we got into a rock war with the biggest bully in the entire town?" Richie asked, and Eddie exhaled shakily, head coming down to rest on his shoulder. 

 

"Me," he said. "I did." 

 

"That's right," Richie told him. "You. You are just as brave as the rest of us, Eds. Give yourself a little credit, yeah?" 

 

"I guess," he mumbled.

 

They wandered into the kitchen where Bill stood looking at the old fridge and around at all the doors. The door behind them began to creak, and Richie turned to see it slowly closing on its own. 

 

"Eddie," he hissed, grip on the man's shoulder tightening. "Eddie, get as far away from the fridge as you can." He gave the man a little push towards the corner, and Eddie stumbled with a quiet yelp. Bill had frozen up. The fridge started to rumble and shake. Richie picked the rusted knife up off the ground and took Bill's arm, backing up and tugging him along. 

 

"Be careful," he whispered. "It's a nasty little fucker." 

 

The door swung open, and Stan appeared, mangled and crushed inside the small box. 

 

"I-I-It's St-Stan," Bill said in disbelief. It's St—" 

 

Suddenly, the body began to convulse, and the boy fell forward out of the fridge, collapsing in a heap of tangled limbs. 

 

"This isn't what happened last time," Richie said, breaths beginning to come quicker. His hands were shaking. "What the fuck do we do?" 

 

"I don't know, stab him?!" Eddie suggested, bewildered. "I mean, he's not real, is he? Stan died!" 

 

"Here, fetch!" Richie shouted, pulling the remaining piece of chocolate out of his pocket and throwing it towards an open door that led to the basement. The body jumped to life and almost flew across the room after the chocolate, jaw going slack in midair and catching the soaring piece of candy it its mouth. 

 

"Ahhh!" Richie screamed, wielding the knife before him and shoving Eddie back into the corner. "It moved!! He's alive!" 

 

"Nuh-Nuh-No he's fucking n-not, you d-d-d-dipshit!" Bill cried, smacking Richie's arm away from holding him back. "H-He's not r-real!" 

 

"He looks pretty fuckin' real to me, Billy!" Eddie shrieked as Stan's head seemed to swivel on his shoulders, neck bending at an inherently wrong angle in order to look at them. Then it started to lurch towards them, legs splaying out in front of him, bones cracking with every movement. 

 

"I thought you loved me, Bill," the decomposing body said in a haunted, echoing voice that was reminiscent of their old friend's. "Why did you let me die?" 

 

"I duh-duh-didn't!" Bill cried, and Stan stopped, staring with glassy eyes and a blank face. "Y-You chose your fuh-fuh-fate," Bill started, moving in front of Richie and standing his ground, shoulders squared against the boy who he had once called his friend. 

 

"You made me promise!" Stan said, black liquid beginning to leak from his eyes and flood down his face, burning his skin and dripping onto the floor. "I didn't want to come back, but you made me swear! I don't want to go, Bill. I don't want to go!" 

 

"Th-Th-Then get out!" Bill roared, pointing at the basement door. "Guh-Get out of here!" 

 

Stan's body gave a horrible screech, and he leaped towards Bill, fingers becoming elongated and claw-like. Eddie screamed and ran forward, ripping the knife from Richie's hands. He thrust the knife in front of himself and dodged in front of Bill. Stan fell onto the blade and it sank deep into his stomach. Richie's eardrums nearly burst at the sound of the creature's deafening screech— his hair stood up on the back of his neck. Eddie drew the blade out and stabbed the boy again, tears beginning to build up in his eyes. 

 

"Eddie!" Stan sobbed, tears running from black to a clear liquid, and his face became cleaner, less rotted. The pain etched across Eddie's face drove a stake into Richie's heart. "Eddie, you're killing me! It hurts!" 

 

Eddie let out a broken sob and kicked the boy back, the thud of his body against the wooden floor cracking Richie's heart further still. The brunet fell to his knees over the imposter and drove the knife once more into his chest, tearing back and stabbing him again, and again, and again. Stan's screams filled the room and Eddie cried openly, the blade clattering from his hands as his childhood friend fell limp against the ground. 

 

"Eddie!" Richie said, reaching forward. Eddie started to turn, eyes puffy and red, when a hand reached up and grabbed him by the throat. The door to the kitchen burst open and Bev, Ben, and Mike entered just as Stan's bleeding and mangled corpse started to drag Eddie backwards towards the basement. 

 

"Eddie!" Beverly screamed, and Richie watched in horror as the two disappeared into the dark staircase, Eddie wheezing and choking the whole way. 

 

"Someone stop him!" Mike cried, and Ben flashed past everyone, thundering down the steps. Richie's stomach started to writhe within him and his chest was aching. His head was pounding. He could hardly hear. He couldn't breathe. 

 

"Richie..." 

 

He looked over at the door back into the main hallway and saw Henry Bowers, as he had been in their childhood years, standing with a dark look in his eyes. Richie could feel himself starting to choke on his own breaths— someone was calling his name in the distance but all he could hear was the thud of a body against a wooden wall— the ragged breaths of someone breathing in his ear from behind— a stinging, searing pain that felt like he was being split in half— 

 

Then pain exploded in his injured shoulder and someone was pulling him by his bad arm towards the basement. He looked over to see Bev with a panic-stricken expression on her face, then back at the other doorway, and Bowers had disappeared. 

 

"Richie come on it's got Eddie—" Bev was shouting, and Richie shook it off, forcing himself back into action. He pulled his arm away with a grimace— if the stitches hadn't been ripped before they definitely were now— and ran down the rest of the steps, rounding the corner and flashing past his friends. Eddie was screaming, flailing against the grip of the little body that belonged to their friend, and Richie lunged forward, grabbing Eddie's arm and yanking him backwards, away from the well. 

 

Stan tightened his arms around Eddie's neck and pulled in the opposite direction, hissing and spitting. Tears soaked Eddie's terrified face, and Richie pulled harder, ignoring the sensation of blood squeezing out of his shoulder between the loosening stitches. 

 

"Let go of him, you bird-fucking mother fucker!" Richie roared, dropping Eddie's arms and stepping over him to grab Stan's corpse by the hair. It screeched as he slammed its head back against the stone well repeatedly, before straightening up and giving it one last kick. It loosened its grip on Eddie and Richie seizes the moment, shouting out in pain as he used both arms to tear his friend away. Eddie reached up, arms locking around Richie's neck as he heaved, and Ben slipped past him, kicking Stan over the edge of the well and watching as he fell, screams fading into the darkness of the crevice. 

 

"Richie, what's wrong?" Eddie asked frantically when the man let go, stumbling back and falling against the wall, clutching his shoulder tightly and moaning. "What happened?" 

 

"His shoulder!" Beverly gasped, and Eddie ripped Richie's jacket out of the way to see the red beginning to soak through his two shirts. 

 

"Oh shit!" The brunet shouted, pressing his hands directly to the injury. Richie howled, body seizing up under the pressure against his wound. "I'm sorry!" Eddie cried. "I don't know how to make it stop bleeding!" 

 

"Then just fucking leave me!" Richie yelled. "Go after It before it's too late. Kill that son of a bitch and help me later!" 

 

"Richie, you'll bleed out!" Mike protested, Standing over the two on the ground. Eddie swung a leg over Richie's thighs so he could get closer and press harder. Richie sucked in a sharp breath, squeezing his eyes shut. 

 

"Who fucking cares?" He snapped after taking a moment to breathe. "If I live, I might be stuck in this endless fuckin' cycle anyway. I can't watch Eddie die every day for the rest of my life." 

 

"Better me than you," Eddie whimpered, voice wobbling, and Richie noticed that he was still crying. 

 

"No, Eds," he disagreed, reaching up to wipe a few tears away with him thumb. Eddie turned his face into Richie's palm, reaching up with one hand to press Richie's further against his cheek. He kissed the tip of Richie's thumb, closing his eyes and letting a few more tears spill over. "Better It than us. So you'd better get down there before I kick your skinny ass myself." 

 

"Like you could beat me in a fight," Eddie laughed with a watery smile, and Richie chuckled too, coughing a little. 

 

"Sorry," he rasped, turning his head away, but Eddie just turned it back, pushing a few curls out of Richie's eyes. 

 

"Don't apologize, asshole," he whispered shakily, breath hitching a little as he cried. "You would win, anyway. I don't know who I'm kidding." 

 

"I'd let you win if we did fight," Richie told him faintly, letting his head fall back to rest against the dirty wall. "Just so I could watch your ass as you walked away." 

 

"Beep-beep, you fucking idiot," Eddie sobbed, pressing their foreheads together. Richie felt a few hot tears hit his cheeks, dripping from the love of his life's eyelashes, and he couldn't help but smile faintly. 

 

"How 'bout you grant my wish right now and walk away from me over to that well our friends are so desperate to climb down?" He murmured, lifting his chin so he could kiss Eddie's nose. "I'll be waiting for you when you come back." 

 

"Promise?" Eddie sniffled, pulling back to look him in the eye. Black clouded at the edges of Richie's vision, and he blinked slowly, mouth beginning to run dry. 

 

"Sure, Eds," he agreed, and he almost couldn't remember deciding to speak. Eddie lessened the pressure on his shoulder but pressed Richie's hand to it instead. "I'll wait right here." 

 

"You'd better be fucking awake when I get back." Eddie wiped at his eyes before gripping Richie's face in his hands. "You'd better be." 

 

"What are you gonna do to me if I'm not?" He joked feebly, struggling to keep his eyes open. "You gonna throw me in your car and send me straight home, Mr. Kaspbrak?" 

 

"Sure, Rich," Eddie nodded, lips brushing his cheek. "And if you're feeling lucky, maybe I'll get down and dirty with you when we get there." 

 

"I'm feeling pretty fuckin' lucky, Eds," Richie whispered, and his heart skipped a beat when Eddie presses a chaste kiss to his lips, before pulling away completely. 

 

"So am I, Rich," he said, before getting up and turning. The rest of the Losers watched with huge eyes as the brunet walked over to the well and swung a leg over the side, finding a foothold. 

 

One by one, with lasting looks at the Trashmouth himself, they disappeared down the hole. Richie waited until their voices disappeared into the echoing chasms and then slumped back, hand falling from his shoulder. 

 

"I'm feeling so lucky," he mumbled to himself, finally letting his eyelids, heavier than lead, slide shut. 

 

He didn't wake up until the earth started to crumble beneath him. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When the remaining Losers fled back up and out into the basement, Richie was barely conscious. Hands gripped his torso and legs and he felt himself get lifted into the air, jostled as he was carried out of the house by trembling hands. 

 

There was a rumbling sound, creaks and snaps and crackles as they ran, and Richie tried to gain his bearings, looking for one person in particular. 

 

It wasn't until they were out in the open air, morning light shining down upon them, and he saw the defeated tears on his friends' faces that it became blatantly clear that he was not. 

 

Richie exhaled softly, eyes rolling into the back of his head. 

 

Maybe this time, he would float off too. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

  1. Someone To Stay

You've drunk it down and now you've spat it out

Nothing tastes like the things you had

So tear it off, why don't you let them go?

We all need someone to stay

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 



Terrified for its life, It fled.

 

How they were so powerful even without the comedic nuisance, It was unsure. But the nasty brunet with the furious eyes had something to do with it, It was certain of that.

 

After all, not once had any of those Losers come in swinging— yet, there he was, the little asthmatic man, charging into the cavern and hurtling rocks at anything that moved.

 

It had been pleasantly surprised when the Tozier boy wasn't there— he proved to be the most difficult so far, besides the clear stuttering leader of the unofficial 'club'. But he was being dealt with.

 

For a few blissful moments, It had dared to hope that perhaps the pain in its backside had finally kicked the can. Then he felt his presence, looming over him from hundreds of miles above his head— weak, but there. Fading, but still existing.

 

The nasty one— the Lover Boy, as It had become accustomed to calling him since trapping the Trashmouth in this loop— was the head of the charge, something that had never happened and was never anticipated. It didn't know how to deal with this oncoming attack.

 

But one's mind can easily be fogged by the fury of losing a loved one, and one's vision can easily be clouded by said fury, to the point where 'tunnel vision' may be used to their opponent's advantage. A few panicked moments of backing away from a tiny human who dared hurtle bits of the very planet It planned to eat merged into one in which the satisfying warmth of a body impaling itself on It's pincer stole the spotlight.

 

The last time It had felt such joy from a death had been when he killed the little yellow one who lost his boat— the one the stuttering leader was still so stuck on.

 

After he felt the very life drain from the body of Lover Boy, he tossed him aside— tossed him aside, ground his body into the cavern walls, and advanced on t he four remaining 'Losers'— name self-appointed, and beginning to grow on the god-like entity.

 

It was amusing how fast they fled.

 

It lay in wait— waiting for the very moment that it could feel the comedian becoming hazily aware of his loss— then It reached out into the depths of time and space.

 

Everything ended.

 

Time moved backwards, in reverse, spinning like a top.

 

Then it began, and the world started turning again.

 

It smiled its own malicious, patient little smile— and It waited. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie was sure he was dead.

 

At least, he had been for a long while.

 

After what felt like an eternity of drifting in and out of what most would consider a conscious state — which was really just being vaguely aware of the patter of raindrops against a window pane, or the rolling of suitcase wheels against a wood floor— Richie woke up.

 

He was disoriented— but he didn't throw up this time. He blinked his contacts out, but his headache just got worse. He was dizzy. He felt as though he hadn't drank water in the entire twenty-seven blissful years of forgetfulness. He thought that maybe if he stood up, he would fall right back down again and die for real. He thought that maybe he wouldn't care all that much if he did, which was the second or third time he had thought that at this point.

 

He thought maybe he would skip lunch.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie woke up for the second time that day— or, night now, as he observed when he mustered up the energy to look out the window— to a great deal of missed texts and calls. Numbers he didn't recognize that he was sure to be some of the Losers who had yet to enter their contacts popped up alongside Mike Hanlon's name. Richie tried to sit up and was hit by a wave of nausea. Exhausted, he slumped back down and his eyes slid shut, only opening again when someone knocked rapidly on his door.

 

"What?" He called, shocked by the clarity of his voice— his throat felt so dry that he had been sure his voice would be at least a bit raspy. But his surprise was interrupted at the jiggling of his doorknob and the panicked voice of whoever was on the other side of his door.

 

"Richie?! Oh my God, are you in there? Can you come unlock the door, please? We're all freaking out over here."

 

Richie rubbed his eyes, hardly able to see a thing other than his phone, which was so close to his face that he had a feeling his nose was going to leave a smudge on the screen. He forced himself back into a sitting position and tried to focus on his breathing, even as his vision began to swim and darkness clouded in the corners of his eyes.

 

"I'll try," he finally replied. There were a few hushed whispers and a muffled exclamation. Richie looked at his window and saw that it was dark— he could hardly see anything in his room at all. He fumbled with his phone and turned on the flashlight, though without his glasses it didn't really do shit. Rain hit the window harder than ever as he got to his feet, knees wobbling. He stood for a moment, gaining his balance, then took a step, knees beginning to grow more steady. 

 

Richie stretched his stubble, coughing into his elbow and wishing he had put on a pair of socks before he crashed— his feet were freezing. His head pounded, and he s hielded his eyes with a hiss of pain when he opened the door and light flooded in from the hallway.

 

"Oh, thank God!" A feminine voice gasped, and suddenly he could hardly breathe as a thin pair of arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. He returned the embrace to who he was sure had to be Beverly, tucking his face into her neck and wobbling on his feet.

 

"What the hell were you doing all day, Richie?" Someone else, still out in the hall, asked. It sounded like Ben. Beverly pulled away and Richie straightened up, swaying in place and squinting furiously at the dark, blurry silhouettes, framed by the lights in the hallway.

 

"I was sleeping," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes and squinting again. "I don't have my glasses on, I don't know who any of you people are, if I'm being totally honest—"

 

"It's Bev," piped up the one who was still right in front of him, the one who had hugged him. "Beverly Marsh."

 

"Ben," said the rough voice who had questioned him a moment or two before. "Sleeping? All day? Are you sick?"

 

"You don't look good, Rich," a deeper voice added, and Richie pinned him down to be Mike— he was getting used to the sounds of his friend's adult voices.

 

"Call Dr. K, he'll fix me right up," Richie said faintly, knees beginning to buckle.

 

"Whoa!" Mike said, and he fell against a sturdy chest, arms wrapping around him to hold him up. 

 

"I'm fine!" He blurted, pulling away and steadying himself against the doorframe. "I'm fine," he repeated, brushing off his sweat-soaked shirt and taking a slow breath. "I hear— I heard Bev. Ben. And Mike. Are you guys the only ones here?"

 

"Nuh-Nuh-No," Bill's voice objected. "I'm h-here, t-t-t-too."

 

"Bill," Richie said as if it were a guessing game. "You still stutter."

 

"I duh-duh-didn't before I g-got here," the man muttered under his breath, and Richie stiffened. He hadn't known that. He thought back to his glasses, instinctively adjusting the ones that hadn't been there for twenty-seven years— and he shook his head, rubbing his eyes for what felt like the millionth time.

 

"I'm here, too," a soft voice spoke up, and Richie's heart skipped a beat. He didn't look in the direction of the man who had spoken.

 

"Right," he whispered, glancing down at the ground. "What time is it?"

 

"Almost 10:00," Mike said. "We all met up at the restaurant for lunch, and when you and Stan didn't show, I started to get worried. Then, we found out Stanley had committed—" he paused, and Richie had a feeling he would be grimacing if he could see him right now. "We found out Stanley isn't coming," Mike amended. Silence settled over the small group, and Richie forced himself to ask the question he already knew the answer to.

 

"He's dead isn't he?"

 

His voice finally cracked a bit. His tongue felt like sandpaper. He winced when he tried to swallow and nothing happened.

 

"Yeah, Rich," Mike replied somberly. "He died yesterday evening."

 

"How?" He demanded, folding his arms over his chest and still leading against the doorframe to keep himself from having another moment.

 

"Slit his wrists," Beverly whimpered. "In the bathtub, after Mike made the calls."

 

"Jesus Christ," Richie said, covering his face with his hands and squeezing his eyes shut. "Jesus fucking Christ." He had known Stanley died. He had known he killed himself. But slitting his wrists?

 

Stan had always been a neat, pristine person. He hated messes. He didn't want spiders to get into his hair—

 

The memory made Richie flinch and he thought of the clubhouse, sitting somewhere under the ground in the Barrens, waiting, screaming for them to come find it.

 

"We should visit the clubhouse," Richie voiced his thoughts. They had never been agreed with by the man who was running the operation, and Richie felt that maybe Mike was going to protest this time as well— but instead, a hand clasped his shoulder and Richie frowned deeply, looking up at the blurry face of a man he knew in years he still couldn't remember to the fullest extent.

 

"If that's where you wanna go, we'll go," Mike agreed quietly. "I think it's a good way to start off what we need to do next, anyway."

 

"Wait a minute." Richie shied away from the voice, covering his mouth with a hand and fighting back the tears beginning to build up in his eyes. "He still looks like he might pass out at any second— he's in no condition to go anywhere."

 

"I'll be fine," Richie insisted, lifting himself up to his full height and surprising himself with how steadily he stood. "I just— I had an exhausting night and forgot to set an alarm for myself before I took a nap. No biggie."

 

"It's kind of a big deal that you slept the day away, Richie," Eddie's voice replied, tone sharpening with annoyance. "You're white as a sheet— you look like you've seen a ghost. You can hardly stand up straight, and—" a cool hand pressed to his forehead and Richie gasped, flinching away. "You're burning up," Eddie confirmed. "I don't think he should be going anywhere."

 

"Oh, come on, " Richie complained. "I'm fine. I'll take a shower, get dressed— you have medicine for everything, just give me some drugs and we'll be on our merry way. Or don't you want to commemorate Stan the Man?"

 

"Don't make this about him," Eddie warned, and Richie could hear him scowling.

 

"Everyone relax," Beverly interrupted. "I'll go to the drugstore and get Richie some medication. I need a pack of cigarettes anyway. I left mine at home. I was in a rush." She fell awkwardly silent for a moment, seeming to lose her train of thought. Then she resumed. "Eddie, you run Richie a shower and make sure he doesn't crash again while I'm gone— Everyone else decide what you want for take-out for dinner and I'll get it. We can meet in the usual spot."

 

The usual spot.

 

The simple phrase put a smile on Richie's face and he laughed, brightening a little bit. "The usual spot," he agreed. "That tree stump. We'd put a rock on it if we were out playing so the others would know to look for us."

 

"I forgot about that!" Ben said.

 

"O-O-Okay," Bill said. "The u-usual sp-sp-sp-spot. Suh-See you there, B-B-Bev."

 

"Okay," The redhead finalized, and then her footsteps faded into the dull thud of shoes against stairs as she descended into the lobby.

 

"Everyone get out," Eddie's bossy voice commended, and there were a few disgruntled grumbles as Richie was pushed back into his room, the door shutting behind him. The light flipped on, and he squinted, shielding his eyes. "You're in deep fucking shit, Tozier."

 

"Why, pray tell?" Richie asked, wandering over to his suitcase and groping for his toiletry bag. He ended up knocking it over, and leaned down, reaching for it. He grasped the thing and straightened up, fumbling for the zipper.

 

"Because you scared us half to death today," Eddie replied, snatching the bag and unzipping it. He pulled something out of the depths, zipped it back up and tossed it onto the bed. A few seconds later, Richie could see. Eddie stood in front of him, fingers brushing his cheeks as he placed his glasses on, brows furrowed as he concentrated. Richie shied away from his touch once again, breath hitching.

 

"I didn't mean to," Richie told him truthfully.

 

"I know," Eddie replied, then backed up, arms falling back to his sides. Richie watched him carefully, surveying him up and down. Eddie seemed to blush, averting his eyes. "Twenty-seven years later, how do I look?" He asked, and Richie forced himself to smile.

 

"Like a million bucks, Eds. You know I've always thought you were cute."

 

"Beep-beep, Richie. Don't start with the nicknames."

 

Eddie bustled into the bathroom, and Richie riffled through his suitcase as he heard the water turn on. He glanced at the window, listening once again to the rain, and the rumble of distant thunder made his stomach squirm a bit. Perhaps a forest wasn't the safest place at the moment.

 

Eddie came out of the bathroom, which was beginning to steam up, and helped Richie pick out a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. Richie sighed and grabbed the clothes, casting Eddie a long look. "Are you going to be out here when I'm done?"

 

"You bet your fuckin' ass, I am," Eddie snapped. "Who knows what you're going to do in there— you could pass out and fall and break your neck."

 

"Oh my God," Richie laughed, but quickly bit his tongue as the rush of breath made him dizzy again. He placed his hand against the wall to steady himself, and Eddie automatically took a step forward, hands beginning to move towards his chest. "I'm fine," Richie said before Eddie could touch him, turning his body away. He hated the way the brunet's brows furrowed, confusion beginning to lace his expression, but he felt as though if he got too close— if he let himself be made vulnerable again— he would stand no chance against Eddie's fate.

 

"Go take your shower," Eddie said slowly, eyeing him with a slight scowl. "I'm going to check in once you get in. If I hear anything weird I'm checking on you."

 

"What if you hear moa—" Richie started to say, but Eddie stuck his fingers in his ears, shouting at the top of his lungs.

 

"La la la la, gross! You fucking disgust me! Cleanse yourself!"

 

Laughing, Richie's head cleared and he pushed off the wall, trudging into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. Smile beginning to fade as soon as he heard the click of the knob sliding back into place, Richie's knees began to wobble again. He was hit by a wave of exhaustion, and he slumped down on the closed toilet, placing his folded clothes on the sink and putting his head in his hands. He had to get a move on or Eddie wasn't going to let him leave.

 

After a few breaths, Richie pulled his sweat-soaked shirt over his head and tossed it into the corner, followed by his jeans and boxers. He put his glasses o n top of his clean clothes and sighed.

 

The shower was scalding hot, but he didn't mind so much— it was good to feel something other than dizzy. His heart felt like it was swelling, and not in a good way— worry crept up his spine and Richie clutched his head in his hands once m ore, fingers curling locks of his hair into his fists. Finally, he cried, crouching down under the steaming flow of water and biting his lip to contain the noise.

 

There was a knock on the door, and Richie squeezed his eyes shut. "Richie," Eddie called, voice muffled. "Are you in the shower?"

 

"Yes," Richie replied, voice cracking. His heart leaped into his throat when the door creaked as it was opened.

 

"Are you okay?" Eddie asked.

 

What a fucking question.

 

"No," Richie croaked before thinking twice.

 

"What?" Eddie said, and Richie could hear the panic beginning to rise in his voice. "Why? What's wrong?"

 

"I meant yes!" Richie amended quickly, wiping at his eyes and wishing his voice wouldn't shake so much as he stuffed his fist into his mouth to stifle a sob. "I'm fine," he wavered, burying his face in his palms.

 

"You don't sound okay," Eddie murmured, hardly loud enough to hear over the shower. Richie didn't answer at first, staring down at his hands. The water pelted down against the top of his head and he lifted his chin so it instead hit his face, mixing with the salty tears that clung to his eyelashes. "You sound like you need to talk about something."

 

"I don't," Richie insisted, clearing his throat and swiping his fingers over his cheeks for the final time. "I'm okay. You don't have to stand in here while I shower." He thought fast and leaned backwards, peeping around the edge of the curtain and wiggling his eyebrows. "Unless you want to join me—"

 

"I'm married, asshole!" Eddie sputtered, right hand flying to his left to twist the plain golden band on his ring finger.

 

"So what?" Richie countered. "You love me more."

 

"That's not saying much," Eddie whispered, and once again, Richie had to strain to hear him.

 

"What was that?" He asked, mouth running dry once more.

 

"Nothing!" Eddie blurted, and Richie stood up straight again under the water, running his hands through his hair and frowning.

 

"Okay," he relented. "Sorry."

 

"Don't be," Eddie sighed. "Just— Can I tell you something?"

 

"You always used to tell me everything," Richie pointed out, soaping his hair and tilting his head to get some water out of his ear. Eddie's giggle echoed in the room and made his heart skip a beat— this was comfortable.

 

"I love my wife," Eddie said, but it almost sounded like a confession, which couldn't be right.

 

"But...?" Richie prompted. There had to be more to it than that.

 

"But," Eddie agreed. "But, I didn't marry her for the right kind of love."

 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Richie asked, scrubbing at his scalp— his nails, duller than dull, did little to scrape as efficiently as he'd like them to.

 

"It means that I was never in love with her," Eddie explained. "She's just like my mom— God, Rich, if you saw her, you'd make fun of me forever."

 

"You say that like I won't anyway, Eds," Richie chortled. He started to scrub at his arms and chest, leaving a trail of red irritation in his wake as he pressed so hard.

 

"Don't call me that," Eddie countered, but Richie could hear the smile in his voice— there was no mistaking it with his favorite brunet. "She even looks like her, 'Chee, I mean— I don't know why I couldn't just fuckin' let go."

 

"Yeah, well, sometimes the things we wish we could forget are what shape us as people," Richie grumbled, slender fingers brushing across his own stomach and causing a dull stinging sensation left by the cloth's disastrous raw and bright red trail.

 

"Did you ever marry, Rich?" Eddie asked eventually, and Richie inhaled slowly, releasing the air in a soft puff of breath. He turned off the shower and stood behind the curtain in silence for a long few moments.

 

"There was someone," he said, choosing his words carefully. "A long time ago."

 

"Tell me about her," Eddie insisted. Richie laughed, shaking his head, and his hair flew out on either side, scattering droplets of water against the wall and curtain. He watched them run down slowly, chasing after one another, and rolled his shoulder when another rumble of thunder shook the townhouse.

 

" She ," Richie began with a bit of difficulty, "was everything to me," he murmured. Brown eyes and a freckled nose flashed in his memory— sitting right beyond the curtain. But he couldn't say that. Not this time. "When we were younger, she would always make a fuss about everything." He reached out and pulled a towel off of the rack, rubbing absently at his hair. "I got a splinter, she always had a bandaid on her. I got a paper cut, same deal. I forgot to do my homework, sometimes she was nice enough to cover that too." He wrapped the towel around his waist and leaned back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling.

 

God, could he use a cigarette. He had quit smoking years ago— but God knew he needed one right now. His little cheat with Bev had gotten him going, and his fingers were itching to grasp the thin stick, twist it, tap it against an ash tray, lips begging to be puckered and wrapped around the edge.

 

"I didn't know you hung out with anyone besides us when we were younger," Eddie said, and Richie could have laughed if he wasn't feeling like such a blank canvas inside.

 

If only you fucking knew.

 

"She made me feel safe," Richie continued as if Eddie hadn't spoken. "She was home."

 

"What was her name?" Eddie wondered aloud. "Maybe I knew her."

 

"Ed—" Richie started to say, and the name died in his throat. "—na..?" He finished lamely, cheeks surely becoming a deep red color.

 

"Huh," Eddie mused. "I don't think I knew an Edna. Did she stick around..? You never told me if you got married."

 

"No," Richie mumbled, letting his head fall back and hit the wall. "No, I left town when I was eighteen. Wanted to get the fuck outta here. I asked her to come with me, but her mom was real strict." The memory started to come back as he said it, and he wrung the edge of his towel anxiously, flashing back to the moments before he left—

 

"Three months, 'Chee. I'll be eighteen, and we can go together!"

 

"You know I can't wait that long."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because of this fuckin' town! You know what happened here. You know what happens here. I can't just sit around and wait for it to get worse. I need an out."

 

"Do you love me?"

 

"What?"

 

It took him a minute to realize he had spoken aloud.

 

"I didn't say anything," Eddie replied. Richie took a deep, shuddering breath.

 

 

"Oh."

Silence fell upon them, and Richie waited, closing his eyes. Had he been too obvious? How did that memory end?

 

Do you love me?

 

What had he said?

 

"I'm going to let you get dressed," Eddie said, shattering the delicate thoughts flying through Richie's troubled mind. "Bev is texting about takeout. Most of us have opted out on Chinese since we had it for lunch." Richie thought of the fortune cookies and shuddered, shaking his head.

 

"No Chinese," he agreed.

 

"We could get subs," Eddie suggested. "There's a good spot a few doors over from Keene's. That's where she is now."

 

"Sounds good," Richie agreed. "I'll just have a loaded Chicken Italian sub on wheat. Do they have fries there?" The door clicked shut and Richie swung the curtain aside, stepping out and dropping the towel to stand on it. After a hesitation, Eddie replied.

 

"Yep."

 

"Wanna split some with me?" Richie asked, pulling on a pair of boxers and slipping the t-shirt over his head. "Tell her to get me a milkshake— a vanilla one."

 

"Vanilla? That's the most boring thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth," Eddie snarked, but Richie heard the dull clicking of a phone keyboard. He pulled his jeans on and sighed, dragging his hoodie over his head and grabbing his dirty clothes before he opened the door. He nearly jumped five feet in the air when he found Eddie standing right in front of it waiting for him.

 

"Jesus, Eds," he hissed, slipping his glasses onto his nose. "Warn a guy, would you?"

 

"Nobody else remembers an Edna either, and you said earlier that we told each other everything," he accused. Richie huffed a laugh.

 

"Why are you so hung up on this?" He asked, and Eddie's cheeks turned pink as he averted his eyes.

 

"I'm not!" He insisted. "I'm just— I forget a lot about what it was like when we were younger, but coming back here— I thought about everybody, but you felt important, and I can't remember why." He met Richie's gaze again, brows furrowing. "I want to remember why."

 

Richie sighed dramatically, and out his hands on his hips, shaking his head. "I didn't want to have to tell you this, Eddie my love, but... when we were kids, you were madly in love with me." He cackled when Eddie punched his shoulder, lifting a hand to clutch the dully aching skin and pushing past the brunet into his room. "Fucking priceless."

 

"That is so not funny," Eddie snarked.

 

"Sure it is," Richie mused, pulling a pair of socks and his sneakers out of his suitcase. "You should have seen the look on your face— were you blushing? "

 

"No!" Eddie insisted, hands clapping over his cheeks, and Richie smiled softly, looking up at him with what he knew was poorly-masked adoration.

 

"You're still cute, Eds," he crooned, pulling his socks over his bare feet.

 

"Beep-beep, asshole," the brunet grumbled, walking over to the door and waiting.

 

"Yeah, yeah," Richie scoffed. "Anyway, who goes spilling the secrets of a man's love life seconds after he reveals it? I thought we were supposed to be friends, Eddie."

 

"We are, I was just—" Eddie started to say, but they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Eddie threw Richie a guilty look and opened it to reveal Mike and Bill, fully clad in rainwear a nd ready to go. They walked in, and Mike threw Richie a sly glance.

 

"'Edna?' Really? "

 

"Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Farmer Boy," Richie replied, shoving his sneakers on and standing up. "We ready to go, or what?"

 

"Don't you have a raincoat?" Eddie asked, brow furrowing.

 

"No," Richie said. "I live in California. It hardly ever rains. I never needed one."

 

"H-H-He can use m-my extra," Bill offered, turning back towards the door. "I buh-brought it in c-c-case." He disappeared into the hallway and Richie shoved his hands into his sweatshirt pockets.

 

"So," Mike said, smirking. "Tell us more about this 'Edna' girl you used to like so much."

 

"No," Richie said, turning his nose up at the thought. "I said everything I remember. My memory is foggy, too, you know." He headed for the door and met Bill halfway down the hall, snatching the coat and slipping it over his shoulders. "Now," he sighed, zipping it up and slipping the hood over his head.

 

"You think Bev is going to share any of those cancer sticks?" 

 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

 

Derry, 1989

 

 

When Richie got to the usual spot, rain thudding down against his already-soaked clothes and further blurring his vision, he fell off of his bike and crashed it over the edge of the road. His elbows and knees stung as he hauled himself to his feet, pushing his sopping wet hair out of his face and wiping his eyes clear of the rain.

 

His glasses had been struck from his face on his way out of the school— he had been so sure he was in the clear, but Bowers had come out of nowhere. It started raining somewhere along the way— Richie couldn't really remember whether it had been when he was getting his guts punched out or in the middle of his bike ride to the clubhouse because his cheeks had been wet before he left the building anyway.

 

Some days just sucked.

 

Someone would leave a note in his locker— someone who had been at the arcade that day— or people would whisper in the halls. All he wanted to do was hide away somewhere nobody would find him. Nobody except for his friends, maybe.

 

But he didn't want them to see him cry, either.

 

So maybe it was better that it rained, because then they couldn't tell the difference between the salty liquid still leaking from his eyes and the clear droplets that were falling from the dull and cloudy sky.

 

He didn't bother to hide his bike, just nudged it further down the slope and tossed a pebble onto the stump beside the five others that already waited. Mike tended to stay home most weekdays— no way to predict when anyone would be around, especially if it was raining like this.

 

Richie stumbled blindly through the forest, arms curling tightly around himself. He could feel himself shivering— almost too stiff for his knees to bend. Why he hadn't worn a jacket that day was beyond him, but what he did know was that he probably wouldn't find the clubhouse before he froze to death, but he'd rather catch hypothermia than get hit by a car blindly riding his bike down the busy roads without his glasses.

 

"Guys!" He screamed out helplessly, and in an attempt to bend his knee, the other buckled under his weight. He hit the ground with a heavy thud, a few freezing droplets of water falling through the leaves and soaking him further still. His elbows and knees stung like crazy— he could see them running slightly red through his hazy vision— and the only warmth came from the tears streaming down his cheeks.

 

Wind gusted and roared and shook the trees around him as he lay shuddering on the ground. "Help!" He cried out. "Eddie! Bill! Somebody!"

 

He wasn't sure if it was hope or reality that sent the returning scream drifting into his eardrums, but it became clear that he wasn't imagining thi ngs when he was pulled to his feet and ushered through the trees, down a ladder, and into a semi-warm clubhouse.

 

A small fire crackled and the hatch never fully shut as someone slid a rock under the edge to let the smoke out. Candles lit the small space, just pinpricks of yellow, hours of light in Richie's tired eyes. Hands so hot they must have come straight off of the stove were gripping his face and arms as he was thrown down onto an unsteady, swinging surface. His shoes were yanked off as well as his socks and his soaked Hawaiian shirt, leaving him in his t-shirt and shorts— something furiously warm suddenly engulfed his body and he gasped, eyes stretching wide.

 

"W-W-We have to w-warm him up!" A familiar voice cried, and arms wrapped themselves tightly around Richie's torso, a chest pressing securely against his own. A pair of legs tangled with his and something draped over the two bodies in the swinging hammock, blocking out the light from the rest of the room. Hushed voices continued all around him but all Richie could focus on was the feeling of scalding breath against his neck and damp hair brushing his cheek.

 

"Richie?" The boy whispered, lips dragging across his skin, and Richie tried to stop shivering, lifting his shaking arms to pull the boy closer. The comforter on top of them slipped, but didn't fall off. He took a shuddering breath. "Richie, are you okay?" Eddie whispered into the crook of his neck, fingers brushing against his cheek and pushing his sopping hair out of his face. "Why the fuck were you laying out in the rain without your glasses?"

 

"Bowers," Richie croaked. Eddie's chest jumped, and Richie exhaled slowly, warmth beginning to finally trickle back into his limbs.

 

"What do you think they're doing under there?" A muffled voice asked, followed by a harsh 'Shut up'. Stanley. Richie managed a smile, turning his head into Eddie's hair and pressing a kiss to his scalp.

 

"We're making out," Eddie snapped, and Richie laughed, head tilting backwards. A soft peck against the side of his neck had him quieting though, and he listened to the soft hubbub outside of their little blanket bubble.

 

"I'm sorry if my clothes are getting you soaked," he whispered. Eddie shifted, and even though Richie couldn't see, he could feel the boy's breath from above— their faces were inches apart. Richie could lean forward and call it an accident— he was almost willing to, just to know what those lips felt like against his own—

 

"Shut up, you idiot," Eddie said, voice slicing through Richie's momentary fantasy. "We had to warm you up somehow and it's always freezing down here. Blankets weren't going t o cut it."

 

"But your hot body did," Richie purred, leaning up and nuzzling his nose against Eddie's. The brunet pulled away with an outraged squeak of surprise.

 

"Don't be an ass, 'Chee," the boy grumbled. "I was just the first one to think of it."

 

"You sure fixed me right up, Dr. K," Richie swooned, resting back against the hammock and wiggling in a way that got them swaying gently. Eddie got close again— nose brushing Richie's cheek— and sighed, breath fanning out across the side of Richie's face and neck.

 

"You scared me," he admitted after a few moments of silence. "I didn't know what to think when you didn't show up on time. I wasn't sure if you had just bailed cause of the rain, or if you'd gotten stuck somewhere— if Bowers got you..." Richie could feel his eyelashes flutter against his cheek as the brunet closed his eyes. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."

 

"Whoa, Spaghetti," Richie chuckled, lifting a hand to cup the boy's cheek and turn his face so they'd be looking at each other if they could see. "Lose me? Come on. All you've wanted to do since we met is lose me."

 

"Bullshit, and you know it." Something warm and wet hit Richie's cheek, and he heard Eddie sniffle.

 

"Eds," Richie said, alarmed, and grasping his cheeks with both hands now. "I'm okay. Totally fine."

 

"But you could have died," the boy whimpered. Richie pulled his face down and pressed their foreheads together, closing his eyes. He brushed away the tears with his thumbs before they could even fall.

 

"Where are we, Spaghetti?" He breathed. Another soft sniffle.

 

"The clubhouse?"

 

"Where in the clubhouse?"

 

A moment of confused silence. Another shaky breath.

 

 

"In the hammock."

 

"That's right," Richie said, smiling now. "In the hammock. You and me. Warming up, doing something your mom would scream at you if she knew about— and is that going to change any time soon?"

 

"Not on your watch," Eddie admitted begrudgingly.

 

"That's right, Eddie my love," Richie said, and he felt Eddie's cheeks warm up between his palms.

 

"Not on my watch." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Despite the rain, Richie had his glasses this time, and he also had his friends to help him find his way.

 

Eddie started to trip a few times, and Richie's arms flashed out to catch him, but he never actually fell. Ben did— through the hatc h of the clubhouse itself.

 

 

Climbing down into it was like climbing into a different world. Richie looked around and discovered that it was almost exactly as they had left it, just—

 

"Duh-Duh-Dustier," Bill coughed when he entered, and everyone turned to look at him. "It's d-d-d-dustier than I r-remember."

 

"Yeah," Bev agreed. She had placed the takeout on the steps after everyone had climbed down, and Richie made a beeline for the bag he knew was his. He could smell the fries. Snatching up the bag and the cup sitting beside it, he walked across the clubhouse and threw himself down, leaning against the damn and boarded wall. His stomach grumbled, and everyone looked at him as the crinkling of his bag shattered the silence.

 

"What? I'm starving," he said defensively, shoving a few fries into his mouth.

 

"Don't fucking eat all of those, Richard," Eddie warned, plopping down next to him and smacking his fingers away.

 

"Fuck off, Eddie, I paid Bev for them!" Richie complained, but Eddie just rolled his eyes and set his flashlight aside, scooting over until they were pressed up against one another. Richie threw his arm over Eddie's shoulder and picked up his milkshake, taking a sip. Eddie grumbled, but didn't shrug his shoulder off, snatching the cup out of his hand and latching on to the straw.

 

"Hey!" Richie whined. "What happened to germs?"

 

"I'll take my fucking chances with you," Eddie replied. Richie groaned, throwing his head back. Everyone else erupted into slow conversation, taking out their own food and finding seats against the wall. Nobody touched the hammock.

 

"I wanna sit in that," Richie growled through a huge mouthful of his sub, and nodded at the swing. Eddie snorted.

 

"Good luck. It'll collapse under your fat ass."

 

"Eddie, my love, how could you?" Richie gasped, placing a hand over his chest. "That hurt. Coming from you, that hurt."

 

"We used to fit in it, both of us at once," the brunet said suddenly.

 

"Yeah, you remember that?" Richie whispered, offering the milkshake. Eddie took another sip, staring at the cloth that hung between the two pillars.

 

"Yes and no," he mumbled, brows furrowed. "One time— it was raining. The time that I was here, and it started raining."

 

"Yep," Richie grunted, taking another bite of his sandwich.

 

"We found you outside," Eddie said faintly, hand slipping up to clutch at the wrist of the arm that still lay around his shoulders. "You were freezing and soaked— your glasses were gone. We lay in the hammock together so I could warm you up."

 

"We sure did," Richie agreed.

 

"And then..." Eddie trailed off, frowning deeply. "Then..."

 

"Then...?" Richie asked, suddenly a bit more curious. "I don't remember anything after that."

 

"We—" Eddie started to say, then he closed his eyes and shook his head. "No. That's not right. Never mind."

 

"What? What were you going to say?" Richie pressed, sipping his milkshake and shoveling a few fries into his mouth. Eddie glanced at him, cheeks darkening.

 

"I thought—" he cut himself off, looking away and huffing dramatically. "I thought something stupid. It's nothing."

 

Now thoroughly confused and painstakingly curious, Richie tried to sit still, but he was fidgeting. Eddie drank more of the milkshake while Richie finished his sandwich. Bev and Bill were chatting quietly in the opposite corner, and Richie could see the pack of cigarettes clutched in her hand, but he didn't want to get up. If he moved his arm now, Eddie might not let him put it back. He sighed and tilted his head to rest it against the side of Eddie's. The brunet leaned against him as well, reaching up and smacking his cheek. Richie flinched, reached up and ruffled Eddie's perfect hair, ignoring his choked protest as he nearly spat out a mouthful of vanilla milkshake.

 

Richie laughed, pulling back to look at him. Eddie's face was bright red and a dribble of vanilla shake was leaking from the corner of his mouth. Richie's entire body heated up and he couldn't help but stare.

 

"You..." He cleared his throat, cheeks burning. "You've got something on your face."

 

"Where?" Eddie asked. Richie swallowed with some difficulty, then reached up and gestured to the corner of the man's mouth. Eddie reached up and wiped it off, looked down at his thumb, and stuck it in his mouth, licking the white substance off with little thought. Richie felt like he was going to pass out.

 

"Did I get it?" Eddie asked, looking up at him through his lashes. Richie's mouth hung open slightly, and he closed it, then opened it again, struggling.

 

"Yeah," he finally squeaked.

 

"Are you okay?" Eddie asked, lips quirking up into a small smile.

 

"He's choking!" Bev called from across the room. Richie pulled his arm away from Eddie's shoulders, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his chin on them. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't get this close again.

 

"What the fuck, Richie?" Eddie laughed nervously. "What's wrong?"

 

"Nothing," he said, getting up and trudging away.

 

"Oh my God," Beverly giggled, muffled by a hand covering her mouth. "He—"

 

"I said, nothing!" He repeated, nearly shouting, and everyone fell silent. Richie stood by the ladder back out and looked up at the slightly-opened hatch, frowning deeply and willing the warm feeling in his chest and stomach to pass, as it was beginning to turn sour.

 

"Ri-Ri-Richie, it was j-just a j-juh-joke," Bill stammered, and Richie flinched when a hand touched his shoulder, jerking away.

 

"I know," he squeaked, shoving his hands in his pockets and inching away from the stuttering man as discreetly as possible. "I know. Sorry. I—" He took a deep breath, looking away and into the shadowy corner, a string of excuses on his mind. "I just don't like how we all grew up so fast." 

 

"What do you mean?" Ben asked through a mouthful of food, and Richie laughed humorlessly, avoiding looking in Eddie's general direction.

 

"I mean—" He started to say, but hesitated again and shook his head. "It's like, the kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you." He shrugged, leaning against the steps. "Like a snap of the fingers," he murmured, looking down.

 

"I don't feel like a grownup when I'm here with all of you," Eddie said quietly. He had set the fries and milkshake aside, knees pulled all the way up to his chest.

 

"Me neither," Bev whispered. "It feels like— I was sophisticated, I had a life— a business. Then I came here, and I'm laughing at stupid things like I'm thirteen again."

 

"What's done as a kid often cannot be repeated as an adult," Mike mumbled.

 

"W-What?" Bill asked sharply.

 

"What's done as a kid often cannot be repeated as an adult," Mike said again, louder. "Maybe it's a good thing that you all feel like kids again."

 

"It doesn't feel good," Ben said, and there were a few murmurs of agreement.

 

Richie didn't say anything. He stared at the dirt ground, gaze sweeping around the space, over a pile of old crates and extra planks. His mind wandered, and for a split second he found himself stuck in the memory of Eddie snuggled against him under that comforter, chasing the chill out of his very bones with his own fierce heat.

 

"Richie."

 

He looked up, and found Mike standing in front of him, brows furrowed. He blinked, opening and closing his mouth a few times as he searched for an excuse. Had Mike asked him a question?

 

"I'm sorry," he finally blurted out. "Did you say something?"

 

"You're being weirdly quiet," the man replied tilting his head. "Are you still not feeling good?" There was a soft rustle behind him and Richie saw Eddie getting to his feet. Mike reached out to touch Richie's arm and the man backed away, bumping first into the ladder then stumbling back against the wall.

 

"I— I'm okay," he managed, but he felt his face growing pale. Thunder crashed outside and he jumped, hitting his head against one of the log beams on the roof. His hands flew up to grasp his head, wincing.

 

"Are you sure, Rich?" Eddie asked, walking around Mike and approaching cautiously. "Can I feel your forehead?"

 

"Um—" No, Richie wanted to say, don't touch me. But he couldn't very well deny the one person who would never take no for an answer. So he nodded faintly, pressing himself back against the wall as the brunet approached.

 

"I'm not going to hurt you, 'Chee," Eddie said quietly, concern lacing his tone. "What is going on with you?"

 

I'm afraid that if I let myself get too attached it'll be too much to live with if you die again.

 

"It's probably just being back here," Richie reasoned, smiling weakly. Judging by the unconvinced look, Eddie didn't believe a word of it. He reached up and brushed a few curls out of Rich ie's face, knuckles grazing his skin, and Richie shivered, closing his eyes. Cool fingers pressed to his forehead, and he took a shaky breath.

 

"He doesn't feel too hot," Eddie said doubtfully. "Are you absolutely sure you're okay, Rich? You seem weird. You were never like this when we were kids."

 

"W-W-We all feel off," Bill piped up, stepping forward. "Clearly it a-a-a-affects some of us muh-more than others."

 

"Stanley, " Richie choked out, body seizing up.

 

For a moment, the image of his friend, still young, but horribly pale and gray, laying in a bathtub filled with blood from his own wrists, flickered into Richie's mind, and his stomach flipped, threatening to banish its contents.

 

"I'm going to puke," Richie gagged, and Eddie flew into action, grabbing his arm and leading him up the steps on wobbling legs. Halfway up, the feeling ceased, and he said, "Wait." Eddie froze, grip tightening on his arm. Richie pauses for a moment, took one look up at the slit of sight between the hatch and the forest floor. He could hear the whistling wind and the pounding rain. No thank you.

 

"False alarm!" He announced, climbing back down. "But I did throw up when Mike called me," he mentioned as his feet touched the ground. "Isn't that kind of funny?"

 

"I crashed my car when he called," Eddie said without meeting Richie's eyes.

 

"You what?! " Richie shrieked, whirling around time grab him by the arms. "Are you okay?! What the fuck, Eds? What happened?"

 

"I'm fine!" Eddie shouted, cheeks becoming a dark red color. "I just— I felt so—"

 

"Scared," Beverly whimpered. "I felt it, too."

 

"Me too," Ben said.

 

"M-Me too," Bill muttered. They all looked around at each other with wary, watchful eyes, and Richie recoiled from where he grasped Eddie as if he had touched a hot stove.

 

"This is what It wants," Mike said. This is exactly what It's trying to do. Scare us."

 

"It's working," Beverly moaned, turning and pushing her face into Ben's shoulder. The man watched, dumbfounded, then slowly reached up and pet her hair, looking back at the others with a mortified expression. Richie would have made fun if he wasn't still on the fence about his stomach feelings.

 

"I think we should split up," Mike said. "Figure things out for yourselves— See what you can remember."

 

"That's a terrible idea," Eddie said immediately, and was Richie imagining it, or had he gotten a little closer? "Richie is in no condition to go anywhere by himself."

 

"H-H-He's gonna have t-to," Bill said. "M-M-Mike is right."

 

"But—" Eddie started to argue, but Richie interrupted.

 

"I'm fine," he said for what felt like the thousandth time. "But it would be great if we could wait until it stopped raining— or, at least until there's some light outside. I don't want to go looking for any creepy crawlers in the pitch black and freezing rain."

 

"I agree," Beverly said, lifting her head and crossing her arms over her chest. "Besides, we were coming here to remember Stanley, not to eat takeout and then just bail. We should do something for him."

 

"Like what?" Ben asked.

 

"Tell stories we remember about him!" Eddie suggested, seeming to brighten. "All of the good things."

 

" Do you remember any stories about him?" Mike asked with raised eyebrows. Eddie tensed, then the light faded from his eyes and he seemed to deflate. Richie wanted nothing more than to reach out and comfort him, but he dug his fingernails into his palms, keeping his hands firmly planted in his pockets.

 

"I—" Eddie trailed off, breath hitching. "Of course I do," he insisted. "I remember... I remember he was my best friend."

 

"H-H-He was my suh-suh-suh-suh—" Bill released a distressed sound, expression contouring as he tried to continue. Everyone waited patiently, looking on as liquid began to brighten his eyes. "Suh-suh-soulmate," Bill finally finished. He cheeks were glowing red, tears building up in his eyes, and he had a bitter look on his face.

 

"Bill—" Beverly started to say, but he shook his head, running his hands down his face and taking a deep breath.

 

"No, B-B-Bev," he said. "I l-l-loved you. Buh-But Stan was muh-muh-muh-mine."

 

And suddenly Richie understood.

 

Years of teasing about it— pretending not to notice when they would look at each other for just a little bit too long— or, noticing, and again, teasing about it— maybe hadn't been so far fetched.

 

"I l-l-l-loved him," Bill cried, cheeks glistening. "And I nuh-nuh-never told him." And Richie thought, maybe they weren't so different, after all.

 

Me too, Billy.

 

Beverly was crying now— Richie thought for a moment it might be heartbreak, but then he saw her smile through her tears. She broke away from Ben, crosses the room in two strides and threw her arms around Bill in a hug. He returned it, burying his face into her neck, shoulders shaking with his silent crying.

 

"Richie, what's wrong?" Eddie whispered. Richie looked over, gasping when fingers touched his cheek and wiped something away. He reached up, and his own fingertips came away wet.

 

"I—" Richie hesitated, almost shocked out of the emotion. Watching Bill admit something like that— it felt like he wasn't alone anymore.

 

Then again, Bill didn't have to watch Stan die in front of him time after time after time.

 

"I miss him," he finally mumbled. Eddie's face crumpled, and he pulled Richie into a hug. For a minute, Richie let himself forget the distance strategy. He squeezed his eyes shut, curled his fingers into Eddie's shirt, and hugged him as if it were the end of the world.

 

I love you, he thought louder than ever. I love you.

 

He wondered if Eddie was thinking the same thing.

 

Richie pulled away first, but Eddie didn't let go. He clung on, fingers carding through Richie's curls, and it felt nice— too nice. It felt like something he could get used to. Part of him screamed to pull away, but the majority was urging him to give in, and hold the man while he still had him.

 

"Do you wanna run away with me?" He breathed into Eddie's ear.

 

The man stiffened, and Richie's heart stopped, terrified that he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.

 

Then Bill started talking again and Richie jerked away, glasses crooked.

 

"Th-Th-Thanks for accepting m-me," he mumbled. "I'm glad I g-got to share th-that with all of y-you." He paused, smiled a little, then added, "And Stan."

 

"That's it!" Ben said, and everyone looked at him. His face turned red, and he shuffled his feet a bit. "I mean, that's what we could do," he explained. "Confess something to Stanley. He was always the best listener."

 

"Of course!" Bev laughed, wiping her eyes. "He was always listening to us complain."

 

They all got in a circle and sat criss-cross applesauce. Richie leaned against the wall, eyeing his friend's warily. What the fuck was he supposed to say? He had to come up with something— there was only one, big, blaring secret stashed in the front of his head.

 

"Stan and I used to talk about Bill together," Beverly blurted once they were all siting. "We would go for walks and look at birds— and just talk. Neither of us thought we had a chance." Bev took a deep breath, and continued. "One thing I wish that I had told him— after all those months of him fretting and worrying and being heartbroken— is that I knew Bill liked him back." There were a few soft murmurs of consolation. Mike went next.

 

"I wish I had spent more time with him," he admitted. "We never really did anything just the two of us. I never felt like I knew him the way two people who call each other friends really ought to." 

 

"I used to listen to New Kids on the Block with him," Ben said, grinning from ear to ear. "They were my favorite band when we were kids— Stan and Bev were the only ones who knew about it. He found out because when I was working on the clubhouse— which was supposed to be a secret— he found me listening to it."

 

"No fuckin' way," Richie blanked, mouth gaping. "You liked New Kids ? That shit?"

 

"Hey, they weren't shit!" Ben said defensively. "Donnie, Joey and Jordan were great. And Stan liked them, too!"

 

"Yeah, cause he was a fucking fairy!" Richie snorted.

 

"Beep-beep, asshole," Bev said from her spot beside Bill, and her icy glare said it all. Richie shifted uncomfortably in his seat. It felt like spiders were crawling up and down his back— his skin was prickling— he was sweating.

 

"Yeah," Eddie piped up, scowling. "If Ben's confession is so stupid, anyway, what's yours?"

 

"When his dog Kitsey ran away I had actually just taken her home for a few days because I always wanted one," Richie said.

 

"What the fuck, Richie?" Eddie snapped. "He was miserable for that entire week— who fucking steals a dog?"

 

"Me, okay?" Richie countered. "It was a little Pomeranian and I wanted her— she wanted me. I could feel it."

 

"Yeah, you're making it sound weird," Bev interrupted, wrinkling her nose. "The good news is, you gave her back. Eddie?" The brunet jumped, surprised by the prospect that it was his turn.

 

"Right," he murmured, looking down at his hands. "Well— kind of like Bev— I used to talk to Stanley about people I liked." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Boys I liked, to be exact."

 

"You liked boys?!" Richie cried, throwing his hands up in the air. "How was there a secret gay society in my own club that I didn't know about?!"

 

"Because we didn't want to tell you, Richie!" Eddie hissed. "All you ever did was throw yourself at guys— me especially! We're we supposed to think that you weren't making fun of gay people?!"

 

Shock made Richie's blood run cold. His mouth hung open like a gaping hole and he found himself struggling to breathe. Eddie's expression started to morph from hostility into concern. Richie reached up and searched for a support beam with a trembling hand, pulling himself up on unsteady legs.

 

"I have to go," he mumbled.

 

"No, Richie, wait—" Mike said, but he was already walking across the circle and towards the ladder. Commotion started to build up behind him as he threw the latch opened and climbed out, getting to his feet.

 

The rain had died down. It was just a light drizzle as he pulled Bill's spare raincoat tighter around himself and started off into the still-pitch black Barrens. He checked his phone and saw that it was nearing 1:00 in the morning. Despite having slept the day away, he could feel further exhaustion creeping up his back.

 

"Richie!" A voice was shouting behind him. He ignored them and took a few sharp turns, ducking around bushes and trees, trying to lose whoever was on his tail. The last thing he wanted to deal with was another accusation of homophobia.

 

"Just going to pack my shit up and leave quietly," he grumbled to himself. "I'll never know if they lived or died— and if I kick the can a few years up the road, then tough shit. I hated my life anyway."

 

"Richie!" Eddie's voice echoed through the trees. Richie listened to the gentle pattern of rain, pausing for a moment. The leaves caught the majority of the sprinkle— he took a moment to get his bearings and pull ed his phone out, switching on the flashlight. He could hear a car whizz by in the distance.

 

He started to walk a bit more slowly now. Part of him wondered if anyone would actually catch up and find him— he hadn't gone the usual way back to the usual spot, and he wasn't planning on exiting the Barrens there, either— then a thought occurred to him.

 

The quarry. Last time he had been there alone, Pennywise had spoken to him.

 

And in a moment of what could have been either bravery, or unbelievable stupidity, he turned his feet in the direction of the abandoned area that they used to play at as kids.

 

He heard a few calls of his name along the way, and Eddie's seemed to be getting dangerously close. He veered off track a little in fear of the man figuring out his plan, zigzagging through the forest and pulling his hood up over his already-soaked curls. He started to whistle a tune on his way, flashlight moving towards every sound. He paused a few times to look around until he was absolutely sure he was just psyching himself out and continued.

 

His phone had started blowing up only a few minutes after he left, and Richie quickly figured out which number was who— a few people called. Eddie's name popped up on his screen a few times, and he resisted the urge until he was just a short distance away from his destination.

 

"Hello?" He said, holding the device up to his ear.

 

"Richie? Oh my God, where are enough? Are you okay?! Are you hurt?!" The panic in his voice was a comforting factor, albeit guilt inducing, and Richie frowned, leaning against a tree. He had lost his light source in picking up the phone, so he had opted to stay out instead of tripping over dead roots.

 

"Hi, I'm not telling you, yes, and not yet," Richie answered in quick succession, adjusting his glasses and peering with squinting eyes through the dark. He could hear the rain shattering against rock.

 

"Tell me where you are right now, or so help me God, Richard," Eddie stated. His voice shook violently, and Richie almost wanted to tell him, he really did.

 

"Can't do that, Eds," he told him calmly. "I'm busy."

 

"Richie, please. Let's talk about this!" The man begged. "I don't want you to hurt yourself."

 

"What do you think I'm gonna do, throw myself off a cliff?!" Richie replied incredulously, then clapped a hand over his mouth.

 

"You're at the quarry," Eddie realized aloud, and then the line went dead.

 

"Fuck!" Richie cursed himself, turning the flashlight on and stomping out of the trees and into the clearing that led down to the cliff. It was blocked off by a metal bar just like last time, which he leaned against, looking at the edge of the water. "What's it gonna take to get you to show up, huh?!" He shouted, whirling around and beaming his flashlight at everything. Rain sprinkled his glasses, but not unbearably so. Silence met his words, and his blood began to boil.

 

"Of course you're too fucking chicken to talk when I want you to," he snarled. "Pussy-ass clown bitch!"

 

"I see you've come to play."

 

The voice sounded right next to his ear, and the next thing Richie knew, his back was slammed up against the metal gate and he was being held down against it, gloved hands putting enough pressure on his throat to hold him in place, but not quite to cut off his ability to speak.

 

"The fuck do you want from me?" He rasped, goes just barely grazing the ground he was bent so far back. His gaze flickered upwards to see how far he was from the edge— the clown could easily have him over it in a second.

 

"I want you to give up," It growled low in his ear. Richie relaxed his back muscles against the cool metal, reaching up and grasping the arm of the entity to keep himself from falling over the gate.

 

"On what?" He managed, chest jumping.

 

"Life," It replied simply.

 

"You're pretty close," Richie admitted, tightening his grip on It's arm. "You never did anything like this last time."

 

"It's more difficult to discourage a child than it is to discourage an adult who's lived a life filled with self-doubt," The clown replied. Richie exhaled steadily, head lolling back p, and he looked at the sky. He could actually see the stars.

 

"What did you do to him last time?"

 

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. It laughed lowly, a deep chuckle that came from the back of its throat. A laugh that made the hair on the back of Richie's neck stand straight up.

 

"He led the charge into my chamber. Oh, you should have seen the fury on his face. You filled his heart and clouded his judgement. He became a... what do you humans call it? A kebab. Then I crushed the rest of the life out of him."

 

"Why him?" Richie asked.

 

"You know why."

 

"Tell me. I want to hear you say it." Richie held his breath, the eerie melody beginning to drift through the wind as the clown's breath began to waft over his face and choke him.

 

"I know your secret," It whispered.

 

"Say it," Richie said again.

 

"Oh, alright. If you really wish to be pained so badly. Because it would just tear you apart to hear it from little old me, wouldn't it?" That horrid laughter again, the gloved hands tightening around his wind pipe. "I kill him because you love him, Faggot. I send Henry after him so you can watch him slip through the fingers of death, have hope, and then watch that hope be snatched from beneath your nose— I kill him because he is the world to you, and when your world dies, a sort of you dies with it."

 

Richie knew it had stopped raining, but his cheeks were slick with tears. He closed his eyes and felt a few more spill over.

 

"When will it be over?" He dared to ask, voice trembling.

 

"When you end your own life," It suggested, and Richie's gaze once again flickered to the quarry's edge. It's grip loosened. "Or," It added quickly, "when you've let him die nine times. You've given him up thrice— if you don't stop it and kill me by the ninth, your time is up, and I'll kill the rest of them too, if I have to."

 

"Why not just kill me right here right now?" Richie asked. It didn't respond. "Why?"

 

A low growl, reminiscent of the one that emitted from deep within the basement that day with Bill sounded next to his ear, and he hardly flinched. The answer came to him.

 

"I'm not afraid."

 

"No," It agreed. "You are more likely to fall off of this cliff after I leave than you are of being killed by my hand tonight."

 

"So let go, and see what happens," Richie suggested. "Will you watch?"

 

"I'm always watching things that happen in Derry," It replied. The hand slipped off of Richie's neck, and he pitched backwards, stringing the ground at an odd angle and grunting as pain exploded in his shoulder.

 

"Ow!" He complained. "You could have let me down easier."

 

"You're going to die anyway," The clown sneered. Richie now stood up and got a good look at him. He stood tall— taller than 6 feet, at least. He had a few inches on the curly-haired man.

 

"I've never seen you up close without running before," Richie mused. The clown's lip curled, and he practically hissed, baring sharp teeth. "Jesus fuck, whatever," Richie held his hands up defensively. "I was going to tell you that you look pretty, but not when you put on that face." It didn't reply, just glowered menacingly, and for a moment it seemed to morph— it was the teenage werewolf, then it was his father, furious after a long day at work— it was Henry Bowers, and Richie felt the looming presence of a buried memory behind him, briefly felt a wooden wall against his cheek and the taste of a dirty cloth in his mouth.

 

"Okay," he whispered, turning and looking at the edge.

 

Just a few steps away.

 

"Catch me," he said, taking one step. "If I fall, I mean."

 

Nobody answered, but he didn't look back. He knew It was there, he could feel it— breathing on the back of his neck, sniffing for even the slightest grip of fear in his heart— and Richie felt none.

 

Perhaps that wasn't good in a situation like this. He had the fleeting suspicion that he should be afraid— but he wasn't.

 

He thought of Eddie.

 

Eddie would hate this.

 

Eddie would be furious if he knew what Richie was thinking as he reached the edge of the quarry.

 

Eddie would be heartbroken if Richie jumped.

 

But, would he really? Would Eddie really care?

 

"He's married," that voice sneered from behind him, as if it could read Richie's mind, and perhaps It could— they had no idea where it's limits lay. "He could never love you. He could never want you the way you want him."

 

Of course, It was right.

 

"Richie!" A horrified voice screamed, and suddenly the clothed hand was at the name of his neck, and he was facing straight down towards the water, dangling over the edge.

 

"Eddie?!" He mumbled, blinking— he felt dazed. He felt sick. He felt confused. His heart started to beat a little bit faster, and he stared straight at the water, suspended over it only by a clothed hand. Fea r started to creep into the pit of his stomach, panic rising, and his breaths came ragged and fast.

 

"Eddie!" He screamed, reaching back and grabbing at It's hand, clawing, holding on for dear life. "Eddie, don't let air drop me!"

 

"Richie!" Eddie shouted again. Richie felt his body start to lift up, and he kicked his legs furiously. 

 

"Eddie!" He cried. "Eddie, I don't want to die, I don't—"

 

His feet hit the ground and he collapsed, the feeling of a presence vanishing. He cried into his hands, glasses falling off of his face as they were knocked loose. It was raining again— just as profusely as it had been before— and Richie wondered if it had ever really stopped, or if this whole conversation had been fragments of It's imagination, placed into his mind like a squirming parasite.

 

He was soaked, he was shaking violently, and he was terrified as someone fell to their knees beside him and pulled him into a sitting position. Hands gripped his face and he opened his eyes to see Eddie's mouth moving, but hardly hearing his words.

 

"I want to go home," he mumbled, voice lost under a rumble of thunder.

 

"I just want to go home." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When they got picked up off of the side of the road in Eddie's rental, Richie almost refused to get in.

 

"I'll get your seats wet," he had whispered faintly.

 

"I don't care," Eddie had replied, smiling sadly and giving his shoulder a nudge. "Get in, 'Chee."

 

Now that they were back at the townhouse and it was almost 2 in the morning, Richie wanted nothing more than to put on dry clothes and sleep the entire next day away as well. Eddie followed him up the stairs. Nobody tried to talk to them when they left, and Richie was glad for that, because he wasn't in much of a mood to talk. He half-expected Eddie to follow him into his room, but the brunet walked over to his own door, disappearing with the click of a doorknob sliding shut.

 

Richie sighed and unlocked his own door with a little difficulty due to his shaking hands. He hung Bill's sopping coat up over the bar of the shower curtain so he wouldn't get the floor wet, then started to sift through his suitcase. He dug out a pair of sweatpants and switched out his jeans for those, leaving his sweatshirt on and finding a thicker pair of socks. He picked up his towel from earlier and rubbed at his hair in an attempt to dry it off, despite the fact that he knew this was just going to make it stick up at all angles.

 

 

A knock on his door distracted him from his task. Continuing to rub at his curls, Richie walked over in socked feet and opened the door with one hand. He wasn't very surprised to see Eddie standing with his tooth brush, dressed in pajama pants and a white t-shirt, slippers on his feet. Richie would have smiled if he weren't contemplating the night's events heavily in his mind.

 

Eddie closed the door behind himself and made a beeline for the bathroom. Richie heard the sink turn on, and moment's later, the faint scrape of bristles against teeth. He sighed and walked over to his bed, towel draped over his hair as he flopp ed back and tossed his glasses onto the bedside table.

 

Eddie re-emerged moments later, and Richie craned his neck to look at the man, although he was little more than a blob of color in an otherwise dark room. Rain once again tapped on the glass of Richie's window pane. It was rhythmic and calming.

 

"Get up for a second, Rich," the man murmured, and Richie did as he was told, watching with dark eyes as Eddie pulled back the covers and layered the pillows one on top of the other— Richie could remember him doing the same thing before bed when they were kids, like a routine— he knew—

 

"—just how I like it."

 

Eddie flashed Richie a smile, but there wasn't a lot of heart behind it. When he seemed satisfied, he stepped aside, and gestured to the mattress. Richie trudged over and fell onto the bed, snuggling under the covers as Eddie pulled them up and over his still gently shaking body. When the brunet started to pull away, Richie's hand flew out instinctively and his fingers curled around Eddie's wrist. His fingers were bare— He was about to go to bed, Richie reasoned. Surely that was why there was no ring.

 

But when a broken whisper of "Stay," was breathed like the last exhale of a dying man, and Eddie climbed into bed beside him, Richie knew that Eddie hadn't really been planning on leaving anyway .

 

There was a foot of space between them— it was a small bed, so this was difficult, but Richie wasn't willing to press his luck. He let go of Eddie's wrist and tried to see him through his terrible vision, but a foot was too far.

 

"Richie," Eddie said softly. "I—"

 

"I'm not homophobic," Richie interrupted, twisting the covers tightly between his hands. "I could never. Towards myself, maybe." He paused, closing his eyes and sighing. "Not just maybe. All the time. But that's not the point."

 

"You're gay," Eddie concluded for him, and Richie nodded. "Okay."

 

"Okay," Richie agreed, opening his eyes again. Eddie was a little closer. Six inches apart. Still not close enough to see his face.

 

"I'm sorry I assumed," Eddie told him. Richie pressed his lips together into a thin line and shrugged one shoulder.

 

"I forgive you," he replied, eyelids beginning to drop.

 

No, stay awake. He's getting closer.

 

Four inches. Almost close enough. Richie could barely make out his facial features— but it wasn't enough. He wanted to see every freckle— every fleck of lighter brown in those vats of chocolate that he called eyes.

 

"You can go to sleep if you want."

 

"Will you be here when I wake up?"

 

"That depends."

 

"On what?" Richie wasn't sure he was up for any special conditions.

 

"Give me a reason not to go," Eddie replied.

 

"Eddie," Richie said doubtfully. "Are we gonna talk about—"

 

"Shhh," Eddie shushed him, pressing his finger to Richie's lips. "In the morning. But right now, all I can think about is the fact that we might die tomorrow, and I'm tired, and I really like you, and I want to know if you're going to kiss me or not."

 

Richie lifted a hand and reached out to touch Eddie's cheek, but hesitated. The brunet looked at him, and he looked back, and he said nothing.

 

"What are you afraid of?" Eddie whispered.

 

"It," Richie replied truthfully. "It killing you and taking all of this away from me when I've only just found it after so many long, heartbroken and excruciatingly lonely years."

 

"Well, tonight, let's not worry, yeah?" Eddie suggested. "Tonight, it's just you and me."

 

"Technically it's this morning, but you know—"

 

"Don't be that guy, Tozier."

 

"Sorry."

 

Eddie laughed, shaking his head. He reached up, grabbed Richie's outstretched hand and pressed it to his cheek. His face was blush-warm. Richie could feel his mouth curved upwards into a smile against the pad of his thumb.

 

"I'm kidding," he said. "You've always been that guy. It's part of the reason I liked being around you so much."

 

"I thought you hated that," Richie mumbled, running his thumb along Eddie's cheekbone and finally easing his face close enough to see his freckles, map out his face even in the darkness of the room.

 

"I told you I did," Eddie replied. "But it was just so you. You shouldn't have to change people to care about them. You either love 'em or you don't. And God, Richie, did I—"

 

"What about now?" Richie cut him off, still unwilling to cross that line— to go the extra mile and hear that confession. Their noses brushed against one another's. He almost yawned, but stifled it at the last second.

 

Not now! Wake up!

 

"Now," he said softly, "Ever since I heard your name somewhere other than the radio for the first time in twenty-seven years, ever since I heard your voice for the first time since I was seventeen, and ever since I stepped foot back in this Hell on Earth, I've decided that I still care about you more than anything and I still haven't quite forgiven you for leaving me behind."

 

"You're Edna," Richie said at random, and Eddie laughed.

 

"Mike and Bev figured as much," he replied once he quieted. "But it's nice to hear you say it for yourself this time."

 

Those three words, said too often by most people, bounced around in his head for a foggy second. He was so tired. The words he had been avoiding almost the entire time— since longer that he could remember— still didn't feel like enough. He took in a great breath, and tried to smile. Eddie did it enough for both of them.

 

"Where do you want to go?"

 

"What..?" He asked groggily, blinking away sleep and trying to process what was being asked of him.

 

"You asked if I wanted to run away with you," Eddie reminded him, brushing a few curls out of his sleepy face. "Where would we go?"

 

"Anywhere," Richie grumbled, eyes sliding shut again. "Away. What time is it?"

 

Eddie glances over Richie's shoulder at the clock on the bedside table. "Ten past two."

 

"Jesus..."

 

Richie could still feel Eddie's breath on his face— on his lips. But he was so tired. Eddie nosed at his face, and he felt it, but it was distant. He could feel himself drifting off.

 

Kiss him.

 

"Richie..."

 

Far away. Unimportant. Richie tried to say something, but he subconsciously knew that it was just a blabber of nonsense.

 

He was too far gone to care. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

He was sitting by the bridge— looking at his carving.

 

Ever since the fight with Bill, he hadn't seen Eddie, or anyone else, for that matter. He missed the stupid asthmatic more than he cared to admit— but he wasn't allowed outside to play. Richie had tried to ask, but Mrs. K was having none of it. He had barely gotten away with his fingers when she tried to shut the door on them last time— he wasn't sure he was too keen on going back.

 

He stared at the letters— R + E.

 

Feelings conflicted in his heart. Did it mean what the rest of the carvings meant? Would he be okay if that was what it meant? Would he be willing to accept that, more so than the rest of the world?

 

It couldn't be something just he was dealing with— he wasn't the only kid in the world who had a crush on his best friend.

 

Crush.

The word sent a shiver down his spine, but at the same time, it made his face feel warm and his heart skip a beat. Eddie's face, grouchy, peppered with freckles, and set in a sourpuss frown flashed before his eyes, and he clapped his hand over his cheeks, sure that they must be bright red.

 

The trudge of approaching footsteps caught him off guard, and he scrambled to his feet, fear leaping into his throat. A nauseating feeling began to squirm in his stomach when he saw who it was.

 

"What are you carving there, Fag?" Henry Bowers asked, gesturing to the bridge. His eyes gleamed a deep amber— Richie had been in close-encountered fights with the boy to know well enough that they were usually blue. His mouth ran dry, and he felt the backs of his legs hit the low-standing bridge's edge.

 

"Nothing," he answered truthfully, holding out his hands— he hadn't brought anything to carve with.

 

"Sure thing, Fairy," the bully replied, starring forward. Richie allowed himself to be shoved aside, palms burning when they scraped the pavement. He sc ooted backwards on his butt, watching with wary eyes as Henry traced the biggest carving in that section.

 

"R + E?" He asked, head turning, and Richie felt frozen in place by that gaze— those eyes pinned him down where he sat, and his face paled.

 

"It's not mine—" he started to say.

 

"Bullshit," Henry interrupted, standing up to his full height and stalking towards Richie, who struggled to his feet and started backing into the darkening tunnel part of the bridge.

 

Night was breaking— the sun was just about down. It was dark in the tunnel. Nobody ever drove in or out of town at this time. Henry advanced, and Richie backed up further still, fingers grazing the wall as to make sure he stayed in a straight line— there was no telling where there may be a pothole that he could trip on and injure himself before Henry even for the chance.

 

"I think it's for you and your faggot boyfriend," Henry said, voice echoing gently despite how dangerously quiet it seemed. Richie could see the malicious smile beginning to spread across his face— as though he were illuminated in the darkening space, the dark tunnel, suddenly pitch black and never-ending—

 

Richie ran. He turned and started to run, forgetting all about touching the wall and focusing instead on reaching the other side. Footsteps thundered after him, all he could hear, a maniacal laugh filling his head and fogging his vision.

 

His heart stopped when his foot thudded down into one of the potholes he had been so worried about and he went flying.

 

Richie let out a great shout as he flipped over in midair, ankle straining as he was pulled from where he had tripped, landing on his back. Pain flared up his leg and he lay winded, hardly able to draw in the breath that had rushed out of his body.

 

Panic rising in his stomach, Richie stared up into the indefinite darkness, unable to breathe and unable to bring himself to move until that unforgettable face looked above his face.

 

—a heavy pressure on his hips, holding him down—

 

—a ragged piece of cloth filling his mouth and stealing his breath—

 

—low growls and insulting grunts in his ear—

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Somebody was in the room next to theirs.

 

Richie could hear footsteps— they jolted him awake, and he gasped, going rigid. His face was slick with sweat— his heart was pounding out of his chest, and he could hardly breathe. He coughed, clutching at the blankets so tightly that his knuckles were white.

 

"Richie!" Eddie whispered, and Richie choked on his own breath as he jerked away from the hands reaching out to touch his shoulders.

 

"Don't touch me," he rasped, throwing the blankets off and staggering away from the bed on shaking legs.

 

How had— What had he been dreaming? The ghosts of hands, gripping his arms, hips, the back of his head so tightly that it hurt has b egun to fade. He took deep, gulping breaths, sliding down the wall and pulling his knees up to his chest. Finally, his blurry vision drifted back over to his bed and the smudged figure that sat atop it.

 

Eddie.

 

"I'm sorry," he said, but it came out as more of a whimper than anything. "I'm so sorry."

 

"It's okay," Eddie whispered. "Are you alright, 'Chee?"

 

"No," he said, voice rising an octave. "I think— I was dreaming, maybe? I can't— I cant remember—"

 

"Okay," Eddie cut him off, voice soft, gentle. "Okay, Richie. You're okay. Do you wanna come back over to bed?"

 

Richie swallowed with some difficulty, then pulled himself to his feet and walked back over, sitting cross-legged atop the blankets. Eddie watched carefully, eyes wide and concerned.

 

"Can I touch you?" He asked in a hushed voice, reaching out tentatively. "Is that okay?"

 

Richie hesitated. Then he looked at Eddie's hands, so small, so gentle, so familiar, and he nodded. The brunet's fingertips brushed his shoulders, and then Richie was pulled downwards until his head rested in Eddie's lap, and those short, stubby fingers were carving through his curls, tugging out any knots.

 

"Shhh," Eddie cooed, brushing his thumb against Richie's cheek. "You're okay. It was just a dream." Richie felt his body begin to relax. He sank back easier and easier into the man's body until all he could feel was the warmth and comfort of Eddie just being there.

 

Then he glanced at the clock and saw that it was around 4:30 in the morning.

 

"I don't think I'll fall back to sleep," he whispered.

 

"That's okay," Eddie replied. "Do you want to grab a cup of coffee?"

 

"What if the others wake up before we get back?" Richie pointed out. Eddie's fingers paused in their movement.

 

"We'll leave a note," the brunet decided. "And we'll be back before 6:30. That gives us, what? Half hour to get dressed. Hour and a half to go out, get coffee, and get back."

 

"Okay," Richie breathed. "I'll get up."

 

Neither of them moved. If anything, Eddie's grip on Richie's curls tightened a little bit reluctantly. Then Richie took a deep breath and started to sit up.

 

They moved silently— Eddie first to his room to get clothes for himself— but Richie remembered the footsteps from when he woke up and searched it thoroughly first. He found nothing but a slightly ajar window. His stomach churned and he realized he knew what had happened—

 

Henry was here. He had putted around, waited for Eddie to come back to his own room— when he didn't, he left.

 

Richie sighed, taking the bathroom and changing his own clothes, before re-emerging and joining a dressed Eddie on his way out and down the stairs.

 

It was drizzling lightly when they got outside— Richie offered Eddie his sweatshirt, and the man smiled, accepting.

 

He still wasn't wearing his ring.

 

Richie shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and they started to walk. Eddie bumped his shoulder a few times on the way, hair falling in front of his forehead and eyes— he hadn't put product in it before they left. It looked soft to the touch, but Richie didn't dare test this theory.

 

As touch-hungry as he was, he didn't want to overstep his boundaries.

 

They walked into a café down the street from Keene's drugstore at 5:00 on the dot. A waitress was unlocking the doors just as they arrived— she threw a nasty look at them and poured herself a cup of coffee as soon as they walked in, but Richie was more uncomfortable with the way she did a double-take of his bed-headed friend.

 

"She's checking you out," he told Eddie as they sat down at a table for two. "She's looking at you funny."

 

"Who cares?" Eddie grumbled, lowering his voice as she approached with menus and a coffee pot. He smiled awkwardly at her, and she smiled back, flipping his mug over and pouring his coffee first.

 

"Hey Sugar," She greeted. "Can I get you somethin' to drink?"

 

Richie curled his hands into fists and looked away, biting the inside of his cheek. His knee bounced restlessly under the table.

 

"I'm okay with just the coffee, thanks," came Eddie's reply.

 

"How about you?" She asked, turning on Richie with much less enthusiasm. Richie looked up, pausing his knee-bounce, and then down at his mug, which was still upside down.

 

"Um—" he cleared his throat, slightly taken aback. "Could I— Could I just have a cup of coffee too, please?"

 

"Fine," She said, flipped it over and filled it quickly. It sloshed out a bit as she lifted the jug and walked away. Richie turned away. "My name's Joyce if you need anything," she said to Eddie, then left. Richie looked down at his cup, chewing on the inside of his cheek and struggling not to break.

 

"Just say whatever you're trying not to say," Eddie sighed after a few moments of watching him squirm. Richie sighed dramatically, letting his head fall forward.

 

"Oh, Eddie Baby," he said, jutting out his lower lip in a pout. "She favors you! I can't believe she picked you over me."

 

"You're jealous," Eddie accused. "This isn't even a date, and you're jealous."

 

"Of you," Richie nodded. "I can't believe you'd steal the girl of my dreams like that, Eds. I thought we were friends."

 

"Yeah, and I thought we were going to have a mature cup of coffee and talk about what we said last night," Eddie snapped. "Because clearly that's a big deal."

 

Richie shut up after that, shoulders slouching, and looked at the menu without really reading it. Eddie sighed, looking down.

 

"Look, Rich," he said, tilting his head and furrowing his eyebrows. "I meant what I said. But I don't know what to do about it now that we're on the same page. Neither of us can very well just run off out of our own lives, can we?"

 

"I could run off," Richie grumped, taking a sip of his coffee and wincing at the bitter taste. Eddie took his mug and poured creamer into it, wrinkling his nose.

 

"You couldn't, though," Eddie insisted. "You think they aren't already whispering about your whereabouts? It's 2016– there are fans looking for you. I'll be shocked if there isn't a photo of you walking down the street with the rest of us by the time we're getting out of here."

 

"Nobody cares that much," Richie mumbled, gaze trailing downwards towards the table.

 

"Listen, Richie," Eddie sighed. "I don't know where you got this whole idea that people don't care about you— but it's bullshit. Nobody just forgets like that."

 

"People forgot last time kids were taken," Richie pointed out. "Betty Ripsom's posters were covered after just a few weeks by some other kid. If I went missing, maybe a few people would be like, 'Hey, that sucks. He was kind of funny.' Then they would move on with their lives."

 

"Oh my God." Eddie pressed his fingertips to his temples. "I don't think you realize how famous you are."

 

"I'm but a humble man, Eds," Richie replied.

 

"Don't call me that." Eddie closed his eyes, placing his head in his hands. "The point is, I own a business, and you're a talk-show host. How can either of us walk away from that?"

 

"Because we care about each other more than we care about our lives apart from each other," Richie suggested. Eddie glared at him, and he hoped he hadn't stuck a nerve— What was 100% true for him might not be so true for his friend— or whatever Eddie was to him at this point.

 

"I—" Eddie started to say, but Joyce suddenly reappeared with an order ticket in one hand and a pen in the other.

 

"Can I get you something to eat, Cupcake?" She asked Eddie first. Eddie hesitated, looked at his closed menu on the table, and swallowed thickly.

 

"Um, I need another minute," he replied after a moment.

 

"That's quite alright! I'll come back," she said cheerily, and her heels clacked against the floor as she walked away once again.

 

"Maybe we should talk about this some time when we won't be interrupted," Eddie whispered. Richie leaned back against his chair and l et his head loll backwards.

 

"I can't leave the love of my life here by herself with no customers," Richie said. "She'll get depressed."

 

"Bullshit," Eddie replied. "If anyone here is the love of your life, it's your own hand."

 

"Okay, I am offended," Richie said, sitting up again. "First of all, how dare you— Second of all, how dare you?"

 

"Oh, fuck off, Richie," Eddie rolled his eyes. "You've probably never gotten laid in your life."

 

"The truth hurts, Eds," Richie said, putting a hand over his heart. "No need to use it so harshly against me."

 

"Oh my God, I was right?" Eddie gasped, eyes widening. "You've never— Really? "

 

Consent is sexy.

 

Richie felt his face pale slightly, something itching a the back of his brain. He scratched the back of his neck, but it didn't go away. He started to sweat. His dream phased in and out of his head, little details slipping in and out of his memory—

 

He was sitting by the bridge— looking at his carving.

 

He shook his head slowly, and blinked, gripping the table tightly.

 

"What are you carving there, Fag?"

 

"Nothing," he whispered, almost unaware that he had spoken aloud.

 

"What?" Eddie asked, brow furrowing. "Richie, are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."

 

"I'm fine," he said, but his voice wavered. "I thought I remembered my dream for a second—"

 

Panic rising in his stomach, Richie stared up into the indefinite darkness, unable to breathe and unable to bring himself to move until that unforgettable face looked above his face.

 

—a heavy pressure on his hips, holding him down—

 

—a ragged piece of cloth filling his mouth and stealing his breath—

 

—low growls and insulting grunts in his ear—

 

"But it was nothing," he finished firmly, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking it out of his head. "I'm fine. It was just a dream, anyways."

 

"Okay," Eddie said doubtfully. A short silence followed. Then Joyce returned.

 

"Are you guys ready?" She asked, flipping open he booklet of order tickets.

 

"I'll just have a few pieces of wheat toast," Eddie replied.

 

"I'm fine with just coffee, thanks," Richie mumbled.

 

"Are you sure?" Eddie asked, furrowing his brow. "You must be hungry."

 

"Then I'll have a side of bacon," Richie relented, shrugging. "I'm just not starving."

 

"Coming right up," the lady said, jotting it down in her book and clacking off again in her little heels.

 

"So Richie," Eddie said, tracing the rim of his mug with his fingertip, "I've always been curious about something."

 

"Yeah?" Richie asked, taking a sip of his coffee. Eddie nodded, a smile creeping onto his face.

 

"Do you write your own material, or do they make you read some shit off a script when you talk on the radio?" He was smiling now, and clearly had a guess, because Richie knew that look. Eddie definitely knew the answer.

 

"You're just trying to get dirt on me," he accused, pointing a finger.

 

"No!" Eddie protested, shaking his head. "Just curious! I'm a fan, you know."

 

"Oh yeah?" Richie asked, beginning to smile himself. "You're a fan, huh?"

 

"Yeah!" Eddie agreed. "I listen to you every day."

 

"I didn't know that," Richie said, smile softening. The idea of Eddie listening to him talk every morning and or afternoon, depending on the day, was anxiety-inducing— but the good kind. The heart-fluttering, nervous-but-excited kind.

 

"Well, yeah," Eddie said, looking down at his hands. "I missed you when you ran off on your own. So when I started forgetting you, I wanted to find anything I could grasp onto. It was hard for a few years— then I heard your name on a radio station in my car." He had a faraway look in his eyes as he described it. "It was a station I never listened to— I don't know why it was on. Maybe a customer requested it. I don't know. But I heard your name, and my heart almost stopped."

 

"Well, good thing it didn't," Richie said stupidly. Eddie laughed, shaking his head.

 

"It didn't," he agreed. "Then you came on the radio— and your voices, Rich. I could remember how bad they used to be— but now they didn't even sound like you. They were amazing! And God, you were so— so..."

 

"Hilarious?" Richie offered. Eddie shook his head.

 

"You had the worst jokes I had heard in a long, long time," he snorted, covering his mouth to muffle his laughter.

 

"Yeah, well, I don't write my own material," Richie murmured, finally answering the brunet's earlier question.

 

"I had a feeling," he said, beaming. "I heard you and I thought, 'No way is that something he would have said on his own. It's not Richie's kind of funny.' And I was right."

 

"You know my so well, Eddie my love," Richie crooned, resting his chin on his palm. "If I had known you were listening, I would have given you a shoutout."

 

"You mentioned me once," Eddie blurted.

 

"Wheat toast and a side of bacon," Joyce interrupted, setting the food down and walking away— she seemed to have gotten the hint.

 

"I did?" Richie asked once she wasn't in earshot.

 

"Uh-huh," Eddie nodded. "I mean— not by name. But you had this really kind of quiet, confused sound to your voice when you got the question from a caller— 'What was your childhood like?' And you said you couldn't remember. 'Something about— I think I really, really liked spaghetti,' is what you said."

 

"Oh my God, I do remember that," Richie gasped. You're Spaghetti! Eddie Spaghetti!"

 

"Don't take this as an invitation to start calling me those stupid names again," Eddie warned, taking a bite of his toast. "But it was nice to know that you hadn't totally forgotten about me— about us."

 

"I can't believe I ever started to," Richie admitted. "You were my whole life back then. I can't believe I wasn't thinking about you every day." He hesitated, scouring his memory. "I did at first," he realized. "When I first left, I thought of you almost every minute of every day. But I made it to Cali, and the further I got away, the less I remembered— until one day, all I could conjure up was the image of a freckle-faced boy sitting opposite me in a hammock we were too big for at that point, smiling at me when he thought I wasn't looking."

 

Eddie's cheeks were red, and Richie was sure his were, too. He looked down at his bacon, picked a piece up, and started munching to occupy himself. Eddie cleared his throat and took a sip of his coffee, looking away, but smiling despite his flustered state.

 

"Whatever, Tozier. Just eat your food." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"We're really sorry, Rich," was the first thing Beverly said when they walked back into the townhouse. "We had no idea— we really shouldn't have assumed. We were supposed to tell each other everything."

 

"Fuhgeddaboudit," Richie drawled, hands shoved into his pockets. "It's okay," he added awkwardly, shrugging. "I'm sorry you guys thought I was making fun of something you can't help."

 

"So are we all good now?" Mike asked. Everyone nodded, and he clapped his hands together. "Perfect. Next step is to go out and remember as much as you can— on your own."

 

"But I remember everything," Eddie protested. "We came together, went to Neibolt, and fought It."

 

"But we weren't together for the whole summer," Beverly realized. "The fight."

 

"Yeah, you punched me in the face!" Richie pointed at Bill, who took a step back, putting his hands up.

 

"H-Hey man, this is wuh-wuh-water under the b-b-b-bridge," he said.

 

"Fine," Richie relented, grinning. "But you never apologized for it." The man shrugged, smirking a little bit.

 

"Why do we have to go alone, anyway?" Ben asked, redirecting them back to the original topic of conversation. All eyes were on Mike.

 

"Because we were all alone at that point in time. We all saw something we never told each other about," he said, tilting his head and looking around at the ragtag group. "So here's my proposal— we go out. We each find something meaningful to us— and we meet back here before dark. That gives you all day, though I can't imagine you'd need that long."

 

"Deal," Bev nodded.

 

"D-Deal," Bill agreed.

 

"Alright, whatever," Richie sighed. He was running out of places to go visit.

 

"Sounds good to me," Ben shrugged.

 

Everyone looked at Eddie. He looked small, and anxious. Richie had half a mind to just go with him, but he knew for things to work out correctly he couldn't. So he stayed silent, giving him an encouraging nod when their eyes met.

 

"Deal," The man mumbled reluctantly.

 

"Good man, Eds," Richie said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Way to be."

 

"Get off of me," he scoffed, knocking Richie's hand away.

 

"Alright," Mike said, opening the door and holding it open for everyone as they filed out. "I'll see you all later."

 

"See ya," Richie grumbled, before shoving his hands back in his pockets and walking off. He heard the mumbled farewells of his friend's behind him as he made his way down the street, then—

 

"Ruh-Ruh-Richie!" Bill called, catching up with a light jog. Richie slowed, and they fell into step beside each other. "W-Where you headed?" Bill asked once they were side by side.

 

"I don't know," Richie answered truthfully. "Maybe the arcade." Again. "Or the Kissing Bridge." Also again. But what other places were there that didn't include the rest of the Losers?

 

"I guh-get the arcade, but why the K-K-Kissing Bridge?" Bill asked. Richie smiled faintly and shrugged.

 

"An old carving." He adjusted his glasses, kicking a stone and sending it skittering away across the sidewalk.

 

"E-E-Edna?" Bill asked, and Richie could hear the laughter in his voice. He chuckled.

 

"A different E, actually," he replied. "Her name wasn't actually Edna."

 

"I kn-knew it!" Bill said, stopping, and Richie stopped mid-step to look at him. "S-S-S-Sorry," he stuttered, grinning hugely. "I just knew it w-wasn't Edna. There was nuh-nobody with that name when we were k-k-kids."

 

"It was for Eddie," Richie confided. "I figure, you should know why I was all over him when we were kids. I wasn't making fun— I just didn't know how to be serious about it. I was kind of hoping that if I was obnoxious about it, he wouldn't catch on to the fact that I really meant what I was saying."

 

"R-Really?" Bill asked, but he didn't sound surprised. Richie cast a look at him, and he was pressing his lips together to conceal a smile. "I d-d-didn't know you liked—"

 

"Yes you did," Richie interrupted. "You all knew. You just thought neither of us did."

 

"Yeah," Bill admitted. "We all t-t-talked about it until you g-g-guys finally realized and g-got your shit together."

 

"What does that mean?" Richie asked, kicking the stone again and frowning slightly.

 

"It muh-muh-means you two stopped d-dancing around each other and cut the b-b-b-bullshit," Bill replied. "Don't you r-remember?"

 

"No," Richie said, heart beginning to beat a bit faster. "No, what did we do?"

 

"You were all over each other!" Bill said. "N-Not that you weren't b-b-before. But it got w-weird."

 

"Yeah, like you and Stan weren't weird," Richie countered, and immediately regretted it when the gleam in Bill's eyes faded and he looked down at his feet. "Bill, I—"

 

"It's o-okay," the man said quickly. "I j-just miss him."

 

"We all do," Richie murmured, stopping his friend and looking both ways as they crossed the street and turned onto the street where Bill used to live. "It must suck."

 

"It does," Bill replied. "It suh-sucks that I f-f-forgot for so l-long— and now that I r-remember him, and I remember h-h-how much I l-loved him, I j-j-j-j—" He broke off, taking a deep breath. "I just miss him," came his broken whisper.

 

"I get it," Richie murmured, looking up at the houses as they passed. "It sucks having to live with someone you love being gone, and feeling helpless to stop it."

 

And there it was again.

 

Gone.

 

He grimaced, adjusted his glasses again, and kicked the stone so hard that it skittered off of the sidewalk and into a storm drain. Bill watched it go and froze.

 

"H-How would you know?" He asked faintly, staring at the drain. Richie came to a stop too, glancing back at his stiff friend. "Who have you l-l-lost?"

 

Richie thought about the last three deaths he had experienced and shuddered, frowning deeply.

 

"It doesn't matter," he replied. "Losing anyone you care about hurts like hell. All I'm saying is, I get it. Sometimes, it hurts so much you can hardly breathe."

 

"O-O-Or it feels l-like you-lol nuh-never smile again," Bill added, still staring. "Th-This is my stop."

 

"You sure?" Richie asked, glancing around. "There's nothing here."

 

"This is w-where I experienced my f-f-f-first loss," Bill explained. Richie looked back at the drain and suddenly he understood.

 

"Oh," he gasped, stepping back. "Right. Sorry. I'll just—" He turned to leave, then paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Be careful, Billy," he mumbled. "We don't know what's still out there."

 

"Bye, Richie," Bill said,band his voice held a note of finality— the conversation was over. Richie hesitated, heaved a great sigh, then started walking. He didn't look back, despite looming curiosity— this was Bill's memory, not his.

 

The Kissing Bridge wasn't far from Bill's house, but it was at the edge of the town, so it was a straight shot away from Witcham Street. Richie followed side roads and hardly touched another Main Street on his journey until he reached his destination.

 

His dream suddenly started to phase through his mind again, and his head started to throb. Richie put his hands to his temples, crying out, and crouched , threading his fingers through his curls and clutching tightly. What wasn't he remembering?

 

His lips burned under the pressure of another's— a pleasant, shocked, but warm feeling—

 

His heart pounded out of his chest as he ran from something— or someone— over the edge of the bridge and down into the Barrens—

 

His head throbbed as his body slammed against a wooden wall— he hadn't been fast enough to outrun him this time—

 

Richie turned on his heels and started to walk away but hit a solid surface. He froze in his tracks.

 

A gloved hand, soft to the touch, ran down his arm, stopping at his hand and lacing its fingers with his in an iron grip. Richie couldn't see— he was too close— silvery billowing clothes were obscuring his vision, smothering his face. Another hand grasped his opposite— lifted it up and pressed it to a shoulder— then slid down his waist, and he shivered, sucking in a breath as it glided across the small of his back, securing an arm around his torso.

 

Eerie, distant carnival music surrounded him, and he felt himself begin to panic as It started to move, gliding around the beginnings of the bridge with uncomfortable grace. At first, Richie didn't move his feet— he simply allowed himself to be dragged, toes of his sneakers dragging against the pavement, so loud compared to the soft music that it seemed to nearly burst his eardrums.

 

"Dance with me," a voice said in his ear— the voice of a man— and Richie swallowed thickly, begging game to move his feet, though they felt weighed down by lead. He didn't dare look up— didn't dare look into the face of the clown guiding him around— but he could feel the tunnel getting closer, and soon they would be plunged into shadow.

 

Was the music getting louder? Richie's footsteps sounded like gunshots in his own ears. His skin felt like it was on fire where the gloved fingers slide across skin revealed by the part of his shirt that had begun riding up. Fear, cold and unforgiving, writhed in the pit of his stomach. Richie felt like he was going to throw up.

 

"You look so handsome tonight," the deep voice purred, and Richie squeezed his eyes shut, face burning. He didn't reply— he couldn't reply. His heart was beating so fast he could hardly feel his feet— but he kept them moving anyway, in sync with the monstrous figure that seemed to draw him closer until their bodies were flush.

 

Richie finally started to pull his head back. He looked up slightly at the face that was mere inches from his own.

 

It was a man— a man with brown hair, slicked back against his head. Big blue eyes, almost too big, but in the warm, curious sort of way. He had a baby face— his lips were full and seemed to curve upwards ever so slightly. But God, those eyes— they seemed to look right through Richie, but he knew they were on him.

 

He was almost handsome— and that was the most terrifying part.

 

The music stuttered to a stop just as a wall of shadows fell over them and Richie stepped backwards into the darkness of the tunnel on the bridge. He froze up, and the man— It—'s hands disappeared.

 

"I know how you think of boys," the voice whispered, and it sounded like he was right behind him. Richie jumped, flinching away and backing into the wooden wall. He gasped at the feeling of the surface behind him and started to move along it, glancing to either side— he couldn't see the end.

 

"I know how you think of your Lover Boy."

 

This time it was Eddie's voice, and Richie could feel the man's breath, sweet and warm against his face. His knees went weak and he clutched at his heart, fingers balling up his shirt into a fist. He felt a drop of sweat drip from the edge of his nose and he could almost hear it splat against the ground.

 

"Leave me alone," he choked out, pushing off the wall and choosing a random direction. He tripped over a dip in the ground— a pothole— and landed on his hands and knees. Palms burning, he got to his feet and started to walk blindly once more, arms out in front of him, taking careful, stuttering steps. "Let me out!"

 

"You have to let yourself out, Richie," said the clown's voice, and It laughed. "It would be wrong of me to do it for you."

 

"I've told them!" Richie protested. "I've told all of them!"

 

"But you're still scared," It taunted. "It still terrifies you, to the point where if he gets too close, your palms get all sweaty, and you can't even let him touch you— but you want him to touch you, don't you? Your little Lover Boy, hands all over your body, doing naughty things, I think—"

 

"Stop it!" Richie cried, covering his ears. "Stop it!"

 

"I could do those things for you." The deep voice was back, and Richie stumbled right back into the same pair of arms, only this time the pushed him until his back his a wall and he felt like he didn't have enough space to breathe properly.

 

"Let go!" Richie shrieked, flailing his arms and struggling against the death-grip those gloved hands had on his waist. "Leave me alone!"

 

"I thought you liked when boys touched you. Isn't that what you want, Faggot?" Henry Bowers's voice cackled, and Richie threw himself this way and that, suffocating, sweating, drowning—

 

" No! " Richie screamed. The hands disappeared and Richie fell to his hands and knees, shaking violently. His breaths came in big gulps. When he opened his eyes, he was back in the sunny daylight of Derry, and the letters 'R + E' stared back at him from the wood of the bridge's edge.

 

 

Tears stung Richie's eyes as he struggled to his feet, beginning the wheeze. He felt like he was reaching the brink of hysteria— his breath whistled and tears flooded from his eyes like waterfalls as he curled his arms around himself, leaning against the bridge and burying his head in his knees.

 

He didn't move for a long time. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When Richie found it in himself to get up again, it was nearing 12:00 in the afternoon. He had wiped his eyes and cleared his throat, stood up and bru shed off the backside of his jeans, then walked back to the townhouse. Everyone but Bill was there when he got back.

 

He had a feeling he looked like shit.

 

His eyes felt puffy and sore. His shirt was sweat-soaked, and he was sure he hadn't gotten all of the dirt off his jeans. His hands trembled as he took a cigarette from the pack Bev offered him with shaking hands of her own and let her light it for him, although it took a few tries.

 

"Richie?" Eddie approached him after a few minutes. He looked shitty, just like the last three times. His clothes were soaked in some dark liquid— and his hair looked slimy.

 

"You look terrible," Richie said for the first time, and he realized his voice was wavering.

 

"Speak for yourself," Eddie told him sharply. "You look like you've seen Hell and lived to tell the tale. Do you wanna talk about it?"

 

"Not particularly," he answered, averting his eyes and taking a long drag. He turned his head and blew it away from Eddie's face, waving away any gusts of smoke that got too close. "Sorry," he murmured, holding up the stick. "Stressed."

 

"It's okay," Eddie replied, brows furrowing. Richie gave him a once over and made a face.

 

"Don't you wanna change?" He asked, wrinkling his nose. Eddie looked down at himself.

 

"Oh," he said, as if he hadn't noticed. "Right. Yeah, I do, actually."

 

"Okay," Richie said. Eddie didn't move. He looked up at Richie with big eyes, seeming to hesitate.

 

"Richie, I—" he started to say, frowning, when the front door opened and Bill walked in with something clutched tightly in his hands.

 

"Bill!" Beverly breathed, getting up from her chair and rushing over. His hands extended and he revealed the contents. Everyone got closer, and Richie's stomach twisted.

 

"It's the b-b-b-boat I made for Juh-Georgie," he said quietly. "The day he d-d-d-d-d—"

 

"It's okay, Bill," Mike interrupted. "We understand."

 

"I w-w-wish I had g-gone with him," Bill said, and Richie realized his cheeks were wet. "I w-w-wish I had guh-guh—"

 

"You were sick!" Eddie protested. "You couldn't even come out to play with us that day."

 

"I w-wasn't really th-th- that sick," Bill admitted. "I j-j-j-just didn't want to p-play with him. J-Just once."

 

"That's not your fault!" Ben said, and Beverly grabbed Bill's wrist, face pale. Bill grimaced, sniffling and drawing in a sharp breath.

 

"I muh-muh-miss him!" Bill cried, and everyone drifted in, engulfing him. For a moment, Richie felt like they were back in the sewers— instead of a boat, Bill was clutching a yellow slicker, and he finally cried after all that had happened, surrounded by the embrace of his friends.

 

"Shh," Bev cooed. She had her arms around his neck, brushing what little hair was long enough out of his forehead. "It's okay, Billy. We're going to make everything better again."

 

"We have to k-kill it," Bill said, sniffling again. Richie clutched the man's arm, where he was embracing him, and tightened his grip. He could feel Eddie's warmth against his side. He took a deep breath.

 

"Let's go, then," he said, straightening up and letting go. "It's about time. Mike, do you think we've all seen enough?"

 

"I can't imagine what else any of you would want to see other than the death of this motherfucker," Mike replied, straightening up.

 

"Amen to that," Ben muttered, sniffling a little and wiping his nose. "Who's car are we taking?"

 

"I got a rental," Eddie said. "It's a van. I figured you'd all be in cars. Easier for us all to get around in one of these."

 

"Good thinking, Spaghetti," Richie said, but he didn't reach out like he wanted to. Eddie glanced at Richie's hands, and the bespectacled man watched it happen. He swallowed thickly and looked away, shuffling over to the door and throwing it open wider than Bill had left it.

 

"Let's go," Bev said, and they filed outside. Eddie threw Mike the keys and they piled into the car. This time Richie climbed into the back— Eddie followed, sitting between him and Bill. Richie squished against the wall, buckling his seatbelt, and allowing his gaze to drift out the window. He could feel Eddie's eyes on the side of his head, but he just leaned against the window.

 

"Richie," Eddie whispered as the car started, the low hum of the engine almost causing the vehicle to vibrate. "Are you okay?"

 

The knowledge of the impending events began to weigh down on his heart and Richie closed his eyes, shaking his head ever so slightly. Eddie's fingers brushed his arm, and Richie tried not to tense up at the contact, hot pressure beginning to build up behind his closed eyes as the echo of a gloved hand sliding across his waist resurfaced in his memory.

 

"We're going to beat this," Eddie whispered. Richie took a deep breath through his nose and stared out the window as they peeled out of the parking lot.

 

"I just don't want anyone to get hurt," he said quietly, hating the way his voice and breath hitched with impending tears. Eddie's hand slid along his back, and Richie thought, this is Eddie. He relaxed a little bit and allowed him to be pulled against a firm body. Eddie's face pushed into his hair, and Richie rubbed his cheek against the man's shoulder.

 

"We're gonna be okay," Eddie murmured against his hairline, and Richie's chest jumped a little as a bit of liquid leaked from his eyes. "We're gonna be okay, and I'll sell the company, and I'll come live with you in L.A."

 

"I don't want you to die," he whimpered, voice reaching a higher octave, and his expression twisted as he buried his face into Eddie's neck. "I don't want to do it all over again."

 

"What do you mean?" Eddie asked, fingers carding through Richie's curls and pulling his glasses off so they weren't smushed against his face. "Do what all over again?"

 

"All of it," Richie cried. "Every time, you die. Every time, it resets, and you die again. I can't do it anymore."

 

"Richie, what the fuck are you talking about?" Eddie asked again, alarmed and beginning to pull away.

 

"What happened?" Bev asked from the seat in front of them, turning around. Richie pulled away and covered his face with his hands, shoulders shaking violently.

 

"I can't do it," he sobbed. "I can't watch— It's making me see it— I can't keep doing it over and over and over and over and—"

 

"Richie!" Eddie said, voice wavering as he grabbed the curly-haired man's shoulders. "Richie, what's It doing? What is going on?"

 

"I've watched you die two times!" Richie blurted through his hands. "And last time— last time I wasn't even there to help you, because I was stuck with a ducking broken ankle outside the well, and—"

 

"Okay!" Eddie said. "Okay, shh, 'Chee, calm down!" He rubbed Richie's back, pulling him into an awkward hug against the seatbelts and burying his fingers into Richie's curls. "You're fine," he soothed. Richie struggled to reign himself in, shuddering gasps tearing through his lungs.

 

"I'm sorry," he choked out.

 

"No, it's okay," Eddie assured him, rubbing circles into his scalp. "But Jesus, Rich, why didn't you tell us?"

 

"I thought—" he said, cutting himself off with another hefty gasp. "I thought if I didn't tell you guys, I would be the only one who had to worry about fixing it— It told me I have nine chances, and if I fail, then you're dead for good, and I can't—"

 

"Richie, I'm not going to die!" Eddie told him. The van came to a stop, and Richie froze.

 

"Don't get out," he begged, but Eddie was unbuckling his seatbelt. Richie whirled around to see Neibolt House out the window, and grabbed at Eddie's arms. "Don't go, let's just run away. Let's do it right now. Let's just go. We can catch a flight, you'll love L.A., and we can—"

 

"We have to do this," Eddie cut him off firmly, pushing the button on Richie's seatbelt and pulling him out of the van with slight difficulty. Richie looked up at he house and clutched Eddie tightly, biting his lip. "Richie, look at me." Eddie grasped Richie's cheeks in his hands, and Richie looked into his eyes, trembling violently.

 

"I can't, Eds, I—"

 

"Richie." Eddie curled his arms around Richie's neck and laid one on him. Richie's eyes fluttered shut and he simultaneously loved and hated it. The others remained politely silent, trudging past the scene. Richie reached up and touched Eddie's cheek, only further terrified of the prospect of bringing him into that house. He almost didn't let the brunet pull away.

 

"Don't call me Eds," Eddie said carefully, lips still just barely grazing Richie's. "Now, are we going to be okay in there?"

 

"Yeah," Richie breathed. "Okay."

 

"Okay," Eddie agreed. He gave Richie another peck, grabbed his hand, and led him up to the house.

 

Everyone stood together, looking up at the door.

 

They stepped inside. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

It was like Eddie's hand was glued to Richie's. He could feel his palms getting sweaty— but he didn't let go. He let the brunet lead him through the hall and into the kitchen. Richie eyed the fridge apprehensively, jumping when Bill entered and the door slammed shut behind him. The fridge shook violently, and Eddie shifted towards the opposite wall, tugging Richie's arm, but the taller man didn't budge.

 

"What the fuck!" Eddie screamed as the door flew off its hinges and struck the wall inches from his head. Stan slunk out, bent in half, legs stumbling around as his arms and the top of his head dragged along the ground behind him.

 

"St-Stan!" Bill cried, and the hurt in his voice drove a stake through Richie's heart.

 

"Richie!" The body sneered, back bending until he was upright, and there was a sickening crunch— his teeth were sharp and bared, eyes almost black. "Here's my confession for your little circle," It hissed, lurching around the room on unsteady legs, snarling and dripping with drool and mucus. "I knew Richie was gay before any of you."

 

"Stop it," Richie mumbled, eyes growing unbelievably wide. "I'm not— I'm—"

 

"You are! " It cried gleefully. "You are! And I knew about your big— "

 

"Stop."

 

"— fat—"

 

" I said stop! "

 

"— juicy— "

 

"No!" Richie cried, letting go of Eddie's hand and covering his ears.

 

"— crush! " Stan shrieked, laughing maniacally. "And I know what you did about that crush— when you were alone— under the co vers— behind locked doors—"

 

"I didn't, I didn't!" Richie screamed. "I didn't!"

 

"You did!" Stan said back, veering off course and lurching towards Richie now. "You jacked o ff, high on thoughts of your best friend, your Spaghetti, your Lover Boy— "

 

"Richie!" Eddie cried, but the man shook his head vigorously.

 

"No!" He insisted. "I didn't!"

 

"I know what you did on the Kissing Bridge!" Stan snarled, getting closer. "I know who found you on that bridge— Henry Bowers!" It laughed, and Richie shuddered, forcing back repressed memories, tears once again brimming his eyes. "I know what he did to you!"

 

"I'm fine!" Richie said. "I'm fine he didn't do anything, I—"

 

"Just dreamed it?" Stan sneered. "Just dreamed that he grabbed you, slammed you against a dark wooden wall and—"

 

"I just dreamed it!" Richie screamed, and suddenly Stan was on him. Fingers as cold as ice and as bony as— well, bones— curled around his throat. Richie cho ked out a gasp as he was slammed backwards against the floor, knocking his head against the wood panels and causing his vision to go hazy.

 

"R-R-Richie!" Bill's voice called distantly. Richie tried to say something back, but when he opened his eyes he was met with the sight of his old friend's decayed face and the inability to draw in enough breath. His eyes grew wide, and his hands flew up to his throat to clutch at the hands cutting off his windpipe. Black clouded at the edge of his vision. He lifted his legs and tried to kick at the small body, but it just bore down on him with more pressure.

 

Then it disappeared and Richie coughed harshly, rolling onto his stomach and heaving, but dust flew up from the floor and into his gaping mouth. He retched, hardly registering the small hands on his back, rubbing circles and whispering into his ear.

 

"Okay, Rich, just take deep breaths, relax," Eddie begged, and Richie started to gain his bearings, nodding.

 

"I'm okay," he choked out, struggling to his feet and leaning against the wall. He looked around and saw Ben kicking at a twitching Stan, Bill crouching by the body's side with a shattered expression on his face. "We gotta go," he added, staggering towards the basement. "Come on, quick. Maybe if we rush it, Eddie will be okay." Everyone gathered in front of the stairs and Eddie's hand found the back of Richie's head.

 

"You're bleeding!" He exclaimed. "Richie, your head is bleeding!"

 

"I'm fine," he insisted, pulling away and heading down the stairs. "Come on, before he's got time to get ready!"

 

They all ran down into the basement, and Richie peered down into the well at the black space below. How easy would it be to just let himself slip? Surely he wouldn't be as lucky as Henry Bowers.

 

The name caused a lightbulb to go off in Richie's head. Bill was in the well and Beverly was swinging her leg over when a pair of footsteps came thundering down the stairs.

 

"Eddie!" Richie cried. The brunet was closest to the bottom. Henry swung around the corner just as the brunet turned around.

 

Richie wasn't fast enough. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Henry and Ben were on him in an instant. Beverly was screaming. Richie reached Eddie's side a moment too late. The man turned, red spilling from his chest, and fell forward into Richie's arms. Richie caught him and stumbled backwards, slumping onto his butt and pulling Eddie closer so he lay across his lap.

 

"Oh my God," Richie said, panicking. "Oh my God, Eddie."

 

"Richie," the man choked, and for a split second, he was young again, thin, frail, and terrified, sitting against the cupboard on the upper floor. Then Richie blinked, and Eddie just looked exhausted.

 

"Oh my God," Richie stammered, pressing his palms to the stab wound. Ben and Mike were shouting, wrestling Henry to the floor in the background. Richie paid them no mind. A warm, sticky substance was covering his hands as he pushed.

 

"Let's run away," Eddie couched, reaching up and touching Richie's face. "Not to California, or New York. Somewhere new."

 

"Yeah, okay," Richie agreed frantically. "Okay. Where do you wanna go, Eds?"

 

"I've always wanted to visit Florida," he sighed dreamily. "Ever since Mike said that was where he wanted to go."

 

"I'lol buy plane tickets," Richie said, voice wavering. "I'll get you out of here right now and buy them on the way to the hospital. Then, when you're all better, we'll go. Disappear off the face of the Earth."

 

"Yeah," Eddie agreed faintly. "That'd be nice. Mike can come if he wants."

 

"Yeah," Richie cried, lowering his head and pressing his forehead to Eddie's. "Yeah, Mikey can come, Eds."

 

"Don't call me that," Eddie scoffed, then coughed again, lips turning red and shiny with liquid.

 

"You know I... I..." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Eddie didn't die right away. He lost his train of thought quickly and easily— Mike subdued Henry with a rock to the head.

 

"Like old times," he had said, but nobody laughed.

 

Bill and Bev climbed back out of the well and everyone crowded around Eddie, who began to cry.

 

"Don't leave me here, you guys," he sobbed, and Richie started to break, muffling his own despaired whimpers into Eddie's shoulder as he cradled him closer still.

 

"We aren't going to leave you here, lovely," Bev assured him gently, pushing his hair back and soothing him. "Should we get out of here and bring him to a hospital?"

 

"It's too late," Mike shook his head. "He'll die on the way."

 

"We have to try!" Richie shouted. "We can't just sit here and let him die in front of us. We have to try to bring him somewhere!" The hand that had rested on his cheek was slack— he reached up and grabbed it, heart beginning to beat erratically.

 

Cold.

 

"Eddie?" He asked frantically, pulling back to look at the brunet. "Eds? Look at me. Hey, Eddie, look at me, look at—"

 

"He's gone, Richie," Bev whispered. Richie lifted his head and stared at her.

 

Gone.

 

He hugged the body tighter, unblinking, staring unseeing into the stone wall across the room.

 

Gone.

 

One by one, the Losers started filing back over to the well.

 

Gone.

 

Richie thought maybe he just needed to rest his eyes for a minute before continuing.

 

Gone.

 

His eyes fluttered shut for barely a moment.

 

But when they opened, everything was different. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο



Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο 

 

 

5.   Empire

 

I see the lights and the stars align

The world is lost, girl now's the time

I've got a fire running through the night

It's burning bright, girl now's the time

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

 

The thing about turning back time is that it's not easy when the target is starting to resist. 

 

It knew that the Tozier boy was getting sick of this game— It had been sure he would give up this time around. How could someone so broken drag themself back from the edge of a perfectly steep cliff? How could the sound of one man's voice be enough to change their mind in an instant? 

 

Love. 

 

The word made It's stomach churn. But right now, It could hardly feel anything else radiating from the man who was cradling the body of the dead waste of space he called a suitable partner. That, and all of the hate in his heart, directed at the entity itself. But that wasn't something It was afraid of. 

 

The repulsive feeling of love and longing was coming off of the disgusting human in waves. Grimacing, It reared back, and began to reach out, an easy habit it had settled into thus far. 

 

Everything ended. Then it began again. 

 

Time moved backwards, in reverse, spinning like a top. 

 

Then it stopped. 

 

And the world started spinning once more.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When Richie opened his eyes, he drew in a careful breath and exhaled just as steadily. 

 

Something inside him felt different this time. The hate was still there, broiling hot and heavy in his stomach, but he felt a new sense of determination— part of him almost didn't even feel scared anymore. 

 

Richie wondered if he should take a shower— he felt grimy and sweaty from the past few minutes, but he knew it wasn't really there. He opted to get up and do it anyway, but made it quick and flopped back onto the bed when he was finished, boxers hanging low on his hips. He lay on his stomach and look up at the window, placing his cheek in the palm on his hand. 

 

It was raining again. 

 

Heaving a great sigh, he rolled over and got to his feet, walking over to his suitcase and kicking it over. He rummaged through it and yanked out his sweatshirt, glancing at the window and observing the gentle grey hue trickling through the dirtied pane of glass. He pulled his sweatshirt over his head and pulled out his glasses, shoving them on his face. 

 

Part of him wanted to wait for Eddie. But the feeling of a body seizing up and falling still within his arms was still ingrained in his mind. He shook his head, and left the room, locking it behind him. 

 

He blinked awkwardly a few times. Something didn't feel right. He paused at the bottom of the stairs and furrowed his brow, a slight pressure building up in his temples. 

 

"Damn it," he cursed, taking his glasses off and blinking out his contacts. He held them gingerly in two fingers of one hand, sliding his lenses awkwardly back onto his face and trudging back up the stairs. He dug into his pocket and realized with a sinking feeling that he had forgotten his key in the room. 

 

"Fuck me," he sighed, letting his head fall forward and strike the wood. There was a murmur of voices from the floor below him and he grimaced, kicking the door and turning towards the stairs. 

 

He made his way back down the steps and, sure enough, there was Eddie, checking in. 

 

The man hardly spared him a glance, grabbing his unnecessarily big haul of bags, and making his way over to the stairs himself. Richie considered offering help. Then deep brown eyes met his, held them for a moment, and the brunet froze.

 

"Sorry, do I know you?" He asked, dropping his bags and straightening up. "You look so familiar." 

 

Richie's breath caught in his throat, and he averted his eyes, chewing on the inside of his cheek. Usually Eddie recognized him. This was a low blow. 

 

"Um, yeah," he eventually replied, shrugging his shoulders. "And I know you. You're... Eddie." 

 

"Richie, I was fucking kidding," Eddie said, scowling. "How could I forget those glasses?" 

 

"I hope my glasses aren't the only thing you remember," Richie protested, shoving his hands into his pockets. Eddie's eyes seemed to travel up and down his entire body, taking it all in, and the brunet smirked. Richie's mouth ran dry and his cheeks grew hot. 

 

"They're not," was all Eddie said, before turning and picking up his bags again. Richie watched, dumbfounded, as the man began to struggle his way up the stairs. 

 

What the fuck.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

They entered Eddie's room and the brunet tossed all of his things into the corner. Richie placed the stuff he was carrying down more gently and watched as Eddie walked around, doing his own little inspection. 

 

"Man, Eds, you're pretty into this," Richie chuckled. "You need help breaking in that mattress, or—?" 

 

"Beep-beep, asshole!" Eddie gasped, whirling around with red cheeks. "I'm married." He held up his hand, and the familiar gold glittering band reflected in the flickering light hanging from the ceiling. Richie smiled forcefully and took a step back, nodding. 

 

"Right, I forgot to tell you. Your wife and I are an item too, so... I don't think she would mind that much." 

 

"Shut the fuck up, Richie." Eddie's face was unbelievably red. Richie felt a strange longing deep in the pit of his stomach, and his own cheeks started to warm up. He looked away and shrugged his shoulders, sucking in his cheeks and rocking back on his heels. 

 

"What's she like?" He finally asked, pressing his lips together into a thin line. "She good to you?" 

 

"She's fine," Eddie snapped back defensively, furrowing his brow. "She's... like my mom." 

 

"So she's good in bed?" Richie wiggled his eyebrows and Eddie waved him away, scoffing. 

 

"God, you're still such a creep." 

 

"Yeah, well, old habits die hard, I guess," Richie muttered. "The shit they make me say on the radio is bullshit, though, if you ask me. I'd knock people's socks off if I had freedom of speech on there." 

 

"You'd get fired if you had freedom of speech on there," Eddie corrected, unclipping his fanny pack and tossing it onto the bed. He dug around in the closest bag to him and pulled out his maroon zip-up, sliding it over his shoulders. 

 

"Yeah, you're right," Richie mused, unable to keep the fond smile from spreading across his face. He watched as Eddie fumbled with his phone, reading the name that lit up the screen. 

 

"It's Mike," he announced. "He says we can meet him at the library and walk to the restaurant with him now if we want, or if we're still settling in, we can meet him there a little later." 

 

"I wouldn't mind settling in a little bit—" A bottle of pills went flying at his head and he dodged. "What the fuck, Eddie, I was just—" 

 

"You are just as insufferable as you were when we were kids," Eddie accused. 

 

"Oh yeah?" Richie asked, unable to conceal his grin. "What do you even remember about when we were kids, anyway?" 

 

"What do you?" Eddie retorted, and Richie fell silent, pondering. They eyed each other warily, and Richie's smile faded. He reached up and scratched at the back of his neck, debating in his head over what to reveal and what not to. After all, he remembered more than anyone but Mike at this stage. 

 

"I remember us," Richie replied at last. "The Losers Club of 1989. I remember chilly autumn days in the Barrens, or in the clubhouse, bundled up but determined to have a good time. I remember hot, sunny days at the quarry. I remember rainy days, which were no fun, because you were never allowed to come out and play." Richie smiled fondly, beginning to lose track of his thoughts. "I remember every time I fell off my bike, or got a thorn in my hand, or stubbed my toe on a rock, you would be there, telling me I was an idiot but still helping me patch myself up. I remember feeling like when I was with you, someone actually cared. I remember your smile, and the way it lit up a whole room. God, Eds, it was so contagious," he laughed, shaking his head. 

 

"I meant about It," Eddie said, but he was quiet, and his eyes held a new sense of wonder, as if he was seeing Richie again for the first time. The taller man felt his cheeks heat up and he looked away, shuffling his feet. 

 

"Right," he sighed. "I knew that." 

 

"I don't mind!" Eddie suddenly added, taking a step forward, and he was a bit more in Richie's personal space, but if he realized it he didn't say anything. Richie's cheeks just grew hotter and he clenched his hands into fists within his pockets. "I just—" Eddie hesitated, drawing in a breath, and smiling with a furrowed brow. "You're sweeter than you used to be." 

 

You're sweeter than you used to be. 

 

The words echoed in Richie's head, and he almost laughed. Instead, he just tilted his head and asked something he had yet to ask thus far. 

 

"How so?" 

 

Eddie's nervous smile began to warm up, and it grew wider. He giggled, and Richie's heart fluttered as he watched those brown eyes flit off to the side and that lower lip get drawn in between his teeth. 

 

"It means, you ass, that you never would have told me anything nice like that back when we were kids," Eddie replied, and Richie gasped, putting a hand over his heart. 

 

"Oh, Eddie, my love, you wound me!" He cried. "I can't believe you would say such a thing." Eddie laughed again, and Richie almost felt tears in his eyes— but he blinked them away quickly, smile widening, and pressed on even though his heart felt like it could get no more full. "I must tell you, I did think these things." 

 

"Bullshit!" Eddie said, but his eyes lit up a bit hopefully, and Richie was afraid his face was going to get stuck like this if he grinned any wider. His cheeks were aching. 

 

"No, no, I swear, it's true!" He insisted. "And I thought— I thought they'd have gone away after twenty-seven years, but you know, sometimes, I guess I just..." He hesitated, biting his lip hard. "There are some people in life," he began carefully, twisting his fingers together and shuffling his feet anxiously, "that make you laugh a little louder..." Eddie remained silent, but his eyes shone, and his cheeks became pink. "Smile a little bigger," Richie added, and he knew that Eddie could physically see that one— he would be surprised if this one ever went away. "And... live just a little bit better," he finished, shrugging sheepishly. 

 

Eddie's eyes were wide, and Richie tried not to stare, but they were sparkling. He reached up and covered his mouth for a second, before running his hand down his cheek and trying to stifle the aching smile. Eddie finally tore his gaze away, clearing his throat and looking at his phone again, but Richie could see the hint of a grin still shadowing his lips, and his heart once again gave a small jolt. 

 

"We should go meet Mike," Eddie grumbled, cheeks dark, and Richie inhaled deeply, turning on his heels and heading for the door. He held it open, and Eddie walked through, casting a long glance up at his face on the way by. 

 

"Then let's get going, Eddie, my love. We wouldn't want to keep our friends waiting." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"You two took your time," Mike commented, raising his eyebrows as they walked through the doors of the library. He already had a coat in hand. "Don't bother taking off your hoods. We're heading out." 

 

"Sorry, Mikey," Richie shrugged. "I couldn't help myself. It was like he was begging me to—" 

 

"That's enough!" Eddie interrupted, turning abruptly and beginning to walk back down to the sidewalk. Richie winked at Mike, who just rolled his eyes and followed the pair as Richie jogged ahead to catch up with his favorite brunet. 

 

"You're insufferable, you know that?" Eddie snarked under his breath as Richie fell into step beside him. The taller man laughed, slinging an arm around his shoulder, which was immediately shrugged off. His hands instead found their ways into his pockets and he sighed, glancing up at the grey sky. 

 

"It's been like this for a while now," Mike commented from a few steps behind, and Richie tilted his head back to look at him, eyebrows raised. 

 

"Has it always been this cold in the summer?" Eddie asked. Richie saw that he was shivering. His hair was falling out of its perfect up-do as it caught the breeze and a few strands fell forward, plastering against his forehead. The rain began to fall a bit more steadily. 

 

"Not usually," Mike admitted. Richie started to pull his sweatshirt over his head, leaving himself in his t-shirt, and offered it to Eddie, who shook his head. 

 

"So why is it like that now?" Eddie asked, batting at Richie's hands as he attempted to shove the hoodie over his head. 

 

"Come on, Eds, just put the fucking sweatshirt on," Richie muttered under his breath, shoving the brunet's arm down and wrestling the garment over his head. 

 

"I'm trying to fucking talk, man!" Eddie snapped back, but finally, he shoved his arms rather forcefully through the sleeves, and Richie was delighted to see that they were just slightly too long, covering his hands almost to the fingertips. 

 

"I think it's because of It," Mike continued politely, as if they hadn't begun quarreling in front of him. Richie realized that perhaps he was used to it— a phrase that didn't settle well with him when it came to a man who hadn't seen him in twenty-seven years. 

 

Used to it. 

 

But things were strange here. Out of wack. They weren't always what they seemed. People remembered things— or they didn't. Simple as that. 

 

"What are we here for, Mike?" Eddie asked, voice barely discernible over the pattern of rain that grew steadily louder. Richie watched him tuck his sleeved hands into the large hoodie pockets and allowed the sight to send a soft flutter of warmth into his belly. 

 

So cute. 

 

"We need to kill It," Mike said. "Once and for all." 

 

"But we killed It last time, didn't we?" Eddie said immediately. There was a slight whistle in his breath and Richie's hand instinctively drifted towards his back pocket— but there was nothing there. What had he kept in his back pocket? A strange sense of worry started to swamp any pleasant feelings remaining and he looked at Eddie with a growing horror as the man's breaths wheezed in and out. "We killed It. It was dead." 

 

"Not quite," Mike amended, lips pressing together into a thin line. Richie could practically feel the distress radiating off of Eddie, and though he was still dazed and his heart was beginning to race at the sound of those ragged breaths, he reached out and allowed his hand to brush Eddie's shoulder. The brunet stiffened, eyes flitting over to fixate on him, and Richie took in the tense, terrified face of his childhood best friend. 

 

"Breathe," Richie heard himself say, though it sounded more like a beg, which he hated. "You're alright, Eds. Deep breath." They came to a stop on the sidewalk, and Richie reached down to pull the hood of his sweatshirt over Eddie's head to protect his hair, which was already ruined— but he figured it was the thought that counted. 

 

Eddie inhaled shakily, and Richie winced at the sound of his breath. He almost swore he felt an object weighing down his back pocket once more, small, plastic, and rectangular— but then it disappeared again, and Eddie was exhaling, cheeks gaining color once more. 

 

"Are you okay?" He asked after a few moments. He was starting to shiver himself. His shirt was almost soaked through. Eddie nodded, and turned. 

 

Richie was trembling violently and soaked by the time they got to the restaurant. He stood in front of a heater in the corner while Eddie and Mike took off their layers, hanging them up on the coat rack. Eddie cast a guilty look in Richie's direction, but the man just smiled reassuringly and gave him a thumbs up. The brunet walked over anyway while Mike headed over to the check-in. 

 

"Remember when we found you outside the clubhouse in the rain?" Eddie asked shyly. He had kept his own sweatshirt on— dry, as it had been under both his coat and Richie's hoodie. The taller man managed a small smile, and a hushed giggle. 

 

"Yeah, you remember that?" He questioned. "The one time you were out when it was raining." 

 

"I had been in the clubhouse already when it started," Eddie reasoned, shrugging his shoulders. "Ma couldn't exactly come running through the woods to look for me, could she?" 

 

"No," Richie agreed, laughing. The heater was beginning to work it's magic, but his shirt and hair were still wet. His jeans hadn't gotten too soaked— but they were damp and it made his legs cold, too. 

 

"That was the first time we sat in the hammock together," Eddie remembered aloud. "Before I started forcing my way in when your time was up." 

 

"And before we started just sitting together so we both got double the time," Richie said, surprising himself. He hadn't remembered that detail until this very moment. Eddie's eyes lit up once again, and Richie's stomach did a backflip when he smiled. 

 

"That's right!" The brunet exclaimed, chuckling. "We didn't stop using that thing until we were in— what was it?" 

 

"Our Junior year of high school," Richie said, and suddenly he was doing a backstroke through his memories of the near-end of their childhood— he had mostly recalled their middle school years, aside from the Junior Prom incident. How had they been in high school? 

 

"We got too big," Eddie giggled, and Richie felt his cheeks begin to warm up all on their own. He couldn't stop smiling. 

 

"I grew up, Eds," he corrected snidely. "You were tiny all through high school." 

 

"Shut up!" He hushed, sleeved hands coming up to cover his darkening cheeks. "I wasn't that small." 

 

"You're so cute when you blush," Richie ventured, smirking as those cheeks just grew darker still. "Do you have more freckles than you used to?" 

 

"Speak for yourself," Eddie jeered, and Richie snorted, folding his arms awkwardly over his chest and trying to ignore the way Eddie's gaze flitted down to his neck and lingered at his collar-bone.

 

"Guys!" Mike interrupted, calling from across the entrance. "Get over here! The table is ready." 

 

Casting a wary glance at Eddie, who just looked red in the face and flustered, Richie slipped around his friend and out of the corner, heading over towards Mike. He slipped past him and through the archway and followed their waitress into the small room that had been reserved, same as always. He plopped down in his usual seat without much thought, letting his head loll back. His neck cracked a bit, and he sighed, rolling his shoulders. 

 

"My back hurts," he complained. A dull ache had begun to ease in from the cold, though he was warming up. The space between his shoulder blades felt taut and strained— as though he had pulled a muscle. Knots ran up and down his spine that he had not noticed before, muscles tense and beginning to throb when he moved. He winced, pinching his brow and leaning forward. Eddie was standing at the head of the table, looking slightly lost. Richie spared him a glance, watched those big brown eyes, still so anxious and now slightly darker, and tapped the seat of the chair beside him. Eddie seemed to relax, falling into the spot with ease and scooting closer— a sort of closer that would go unnoticed by others, but that Richie was all too aware of. 

 

"Are you okay?" Eddie asked, worry dripping from every syllable, and Richie looked at him, smiling sadly. Feeling rather bold, he reached out and grasped the man's hand, pleased to feel Eddie tangle their fingers together, palm against palm. 

 

"I'm tired," Richie rasped, voice beginning to become hoarse. "I'm so tired, Eddie." 

 

"Well, maybe you can go take a nap after lunch," Eddie suggested, brow furrowing, but Richie just shook his head, smile widening, though it remained unhappy. 

 

"No," he disagreed. "Not like that. Well," he amended, slumping back in his chair and running his thumb over the knuckles of the hand pressed against his, "like that. Always, always like that. But I'm tired up here, too. Constantly." He tapped his head with his free hand and adjusted his glasses, still speckled with rain. "Sometimes everything just feels like— it's too much, you know? And my mind— it just goes too fast. I can't keep up like I could when I was younger. More energetic." 

 

"You still had trouble then," Eddie reminded him. Richie furrowed his brow, thinking. 

 

"How much do you remember, besides what we were talking about earlier?" He murmured, tilting his head to look up at Eddie, who smiled a real smile, though small, and let go of Richie's hand to take his glasses and start to dry them off. 

 

"Oh, all of the best things," was what he whispered, and for a minute Richie thought he saw tears in the man's eyes, but it must have been a trick with the lighting, because a second later he was looking up again and his face got close as he slid Richie's glasses back up his nose. "And some of the bad. But the good is what I care about." 

 

"Anything good about us?" Richie threw out a line, behind unsure if he was going to snag anything. Eddie's gaze slid down to Richie's neck, and the man consciously began to lift his hands, pulling the collar of his shirt up to his nose and covering it. 

 

"Well, your damn freckles, for one thing," Eddie told him, swatting his hands away and letting the shirt flutter back down. His cheeks started to turn pink. "All of them," he added hastily, looking away, and Richie's face felt like it had caught fire. 

 

"All of them?!" He whisper-shouted. "Like, all the way down to—" he gestured down to around his stomach, and Eddie nodded furiously, blushing such a deep crimson that it was hard to see the freckles on his face. "When?!" 

 

"The quarry," Eddie said slowly, gaze trailing downwards as he began playing with his fingers. "And... in the clubhouse, when it was really hot, and everyone took their shirts off—" he swallowed thickly, and Richie's eyes flirted down to where his throat bobbed. "Except Bev, obviously." 

 

"That's—" Richie broke off, slumping down a bit further in his chair and wishing he could just melt away. "That's it?" 

 

"No," Eddie squeaked, clapping a hand over his mouth. 

 

"What else?" Richie demanded. 

 

"What else, what?" Bev's voice chimed in from where she stood in the doorway. She was grinning, eyes bright, teeth flashing such a brilliant white color that the light was almost too bright against them. 

 

"Nothing!" Richie droned, throwing his hands up into the air. "We're just talking about what we remember. Wanna join?" 

 

"Sure," she agreed, heading over and sitting on Richie's other side, resting her cheek against her knuckles. "Senior year. The time that we tried to throw a surprise party for Rich, and somebody told him about it." She raised her eyebrows at Eddie, who's mouth fell opened. 

 

"Hey!" He exclaimed, expression guarded. "I only told him because I knew he would have hated it if we surprised him." 

 

"You never know!" She disagreed, shaking her head. "He could have loved it." 

 

"No, I would have hated it," Richie told her, shaking his head. "Eds made the right call." 

 

"See?!" The brunet defended, smirking. "I know him." 

 

"A little too well, if you ask me," Bev snipped, voice low, but she was grinning. 

 

"Ughhh, Miss Marsh, enough with the insinuations," Richie rolled his eyes. "We get it. We're in love. You don't have to keep telling us." 

 

"I— No we— What?!" Eddie sputtered, cheeks once again impossibly red. Beverly snorted, clasping a hand over her mouth to conceal her giggles. 

 

"It's a well-known fact that Eddie and I are high school sweethearts," Richie continued, eyes fluttering shut. He could fall asleep right here. Surrounded by two of his favorite people. Just... float off. 

 

"More like you harassed him and he was too polite to blow the rape whistle his mom made him carry around," Bev wheezed, clutching her stomach. Richie's vision blurred and his eyes went out of focus. His face paled slightly as something in the far reaches of his mind, something familiar, the same memory that had been digging at him since the beginning of his escapades, once again made an attempt to resurface. 

 

"I want to talk about something else," he said, voice wavering. He started to sit up and saw that his arms shook slightly under his weight. 

 

"Are you alright, 'Chee?" Eddie questioned, hands brushing Richie's shoulders. "What's wrong?" 

 

"I'm fine," Richie managed, but he felt sick. His stomach churned and he took a tiny sip of water, heart pounding. 

 

What was this? What couldn't he remember? What the hell was it?

 

(—I think it's for you and your faggot boyfriend—)

 

Richie inhaled sharply, sitting up further still and ignoring the goosebumps that had erupted all over his arms. "I'm fine," he repeated. "Nothing happened. I'm okay." 

 

"Hey guys." Ben Hanscom stood in the doorway, smiling and standing just as uncomfortably as he did when he had first entered their ranks— arms hanging loose at his sides, unsure what to do, shoulders hunched slightly, as though he were about to approach, but he never moved. Always unsure. 

 

"Ben?" Bev asked, and the legs of her chair scraped the floor as she stood up. "It's been so long! I hardly recognize you!" 

 

Richie tried to let himself relax, slump back again, melt under the feeling of a warm hand still lingering absently against his shoulder, but his back still throbbed, and his head started to hurt. 

 

(—faggot boyfriend—)

 

He knocked back his glass of water and cleared his throat, rubbing his eyes. It was going to be a long afternoon. But then, what else was new? 

 

"Yeah, it's me," Ben laughed, heading over and sliding into the seat across from Bev. "What are you guys talking about?" 

 

"Meeeeeeeemories!" Richie sang loudly, and terribly off-key. "We're taking a trip down memory lane," he added, lifting his head to squint at Ben through his old coke-bottle glasses lenses. 

 

"So tell us, New Kid. What do you remember?" 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"God, I'm fukcin' starving," Richie grumbled and watched the flames of the famous flambé lick at the surrounding space. "Someone... Eds, Spaghetti, my darling boy... Would you set something in fire for me?" He jutted out his lower lip and did his best puppy-dog eyes. Eddie made a face at him, but reached across the table and stabbed one of the chunks of meat that had already been cooked. He put it on Richie's plate and poked him harshly with his skewer. 

 

"Sit up, dude, you're not a fucking five-year-old," he scolded. Richie groaned, but did as he was told, back aching the whole way. 

 

"There's no support in these chairs," he complained, watching as Eddie unrolled the napkin with his silverware in it and spread the cloth over his lap for him. "Is this what it feels like to have a housewife?" He asked aloud. "Eddie, are you up for hire? Will you feed me, too?" 

 

"Don't push your luck, smartass," Eddie hissed, cheeks pink. 

 

"Well, I tried," Richie relented, grabbing his fork and stabbing the meat. He didn't bother cutting it— just took a bite, wiping his mouth on a napkin afterwards. "So what are you losers up to?" He asked through a mouthful of food. "I run a few talk shows on the radio— live up in L.A.. Where did you guys settle?" 

 

"I'm in New York," Eddie answered. "I run a limo business up there. Driving people from the airport, taking kids to prom, that kind of gig. Sometimes we get some celebrities, it's kinda cool." 

 

"Wh-Wh-Who have you driven, Eddie?" Bill asked— he had arrived last, as usual, and the one empty seat sat by his side, pulled open and waiting for its inhabitant. Bill kept glancing at it periodically, and the anticipation in his gaze made Richie's mouth run dry. 

 

"Oh, well, just a few small-town actors, nobody that amazing, you know," Eddie mumbled humbly, looking away. "It's no big deal, really." 

 

"No, it sounds really cool!" Beverly said, resting her cheek against the palm of her hand. "What's your favorite part about it?" 

 

"I like the prom gigs," Eddie admitted, a smile beginning to work it's way onto his face. "I just— I always like seeing the kids so happy, and excited. Sometimes they can be a little wild, but you know, it's just great to see some younger people who have— well, who know how to have a good, and... normal time, I guess." 

 

Everyone fell silent for a moment, glancing around uneasily, and Richie felt like he had lost his appetite. He slouched back down in his chair and sighed softly, eyeing Bill, who was eyeing the seat beside his once more with a certain longing. Richie swallowed with some difficulty and looked away, guilt and knowledge squirming around in his stomach. He met Beverly's gaze, and she furrowed her eyebrows. 

 

She knows. 

 

He forced a smile and shrugged nonchalantly. She didn't look convinced, but she didn't question him. 

 

She knows because she saw it. 

 

He looked up at Eddie, who looked guilty, and reached up, tapping his arm. Eddie looked over, distress masking his usually-sassy expression. Richie grinned, and patted his shoulder. 

 

"They ever get it on in the back in the way home?" He asked cheekily, shattering the delicate silence. Ben choked in his water. Bev laughed sharply, covering her mouth. Bill chuckled, gaze ripping away from Stanley's empty chair, and Mike just shook his head disbelievingly. 

 

"No!" Eddie cried, face bright red. "Of course not! What the fuck, Richie?!" 

 

"What?!" Richie threw his hands up defensively. "I'm just saying— if I was leaving my senior prom, and I had a special someone in the back of a limo with me alone— I'm never going to see this fucking limo driver again, right? I might get a little impatient!" 

 

"You're so fucking gross," Eddie hissed, turning away. "Sit up, stop slouching at the table." Richie obeyed, heaving himself up into a sitting position and glancing around with a shit-eating grin. 

 

"Okay, fine, you got me," he relented, raising his eyebrows. "I wouldn't throw myself at my date. But if they wanted me, I wouldn't say no." 

 

"You say that like anyone would tap that," Eddie snarked, wrinkling his nose. 

 

"Ohhhh," Bev gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth. Richie blinked slowly, staring at Eddie with his mouth slightly open. Realization seemed to register in those huge brown eyes, and shock began to filter into his expression as he went pale. The table was silent. 

 

"Right," Richie said, turning and scooting his chair an inch or two away. "Sorry. I forgot that I'm an ugly little four-eyed son of a bitch— You know, the one who everyone hated, and wrote things about in the bathroom stalls—" 

 

"Richie, I—" Eddie started to say, but Richie cut him off bitterly. 

 

"You don't need to say anything, Eds. It's cool. Whatever." He folded his arms over his chest and took a deep breath. "Where's Stanley?" He asked, looking directly at Mike and narrowing his eyes. The man tensed, and Richie almost felt guilty, but then he saw Bill peeking up out of the corner of his eye, blissfully unaware, and frustration at the fact that the news had been withheld swamped everything else. "Why hasn't he showed up yet?" 

 

"Um—" Mike hesitated, glancing around nervously. "He's coming late." 

 

Shock hit Richie like a ton of bricks. Mike was lying? This had never happened before. He stared the man down, and watched him squirm. 

 

He doesn't know I know. 

 

Richie exchanged a glance with Beverly, who's eyes were narrowed, and an unspoken agreement seemed to click into place— they were going to get him to break before he hurt Bill more than the straight-up truth would. 

 

"Okay," Richie said slowly, taking the napkin off his lap and tossing it onto the table. "Well, since the mood has been killed and I'm ready to sleep for a decade, I think I'm going to take over and make the executive decision that this unofficial meeting of the Losers Club has come to a close." 

 

He shifted through his wallet and tossed a few bills onto the table, eyed the fortune cookies uneasily, and got up. He glanced around briefly. Bev was standing up too and looking at him strangely. Ben was starting to move, looking in his own wallet. Bill just looked bewildered. Richie didn't really feel like talking to Eddie, so he didn't bother looking at him. 

 

"Guys, wait—" Mike said, getting to his feet and staring around wildly. "We aren't done today— we need to act!" 

 

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty fuckin' done for the day, Mikey," Richie said, voice shaking lightly. "I'm not going to leave— I can promise you that— but I'm just pretty fuckin' done for the day. You understand, yeah?" He made his way around the table, patted Mike on the shoulder, and headed for the door. "Sayonara!" 

 

There was a shuffle of footsteps behind him, and as he grabbed his damp hoodie off of the coatrack, small, delicate hands grabbed a different coat. Richie allowed his eyes to travel down the owner's forearms, blood boiling as he observed the bruises peppering her skin. 

 

"We have to talk," Beverly said, falling into step beside him. 

 

"Yeah," Richie agreed, walking out of the room and towards the front entrance. 

 

"I know." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"To keep this short but sweet, I think we should just agree that we both know generally how much the other knows about what goes down later on," Richie began, shoving his hands into his hoodie pockets and pulling his hood over his head as they stepped outside. The rain had let up a little and he was in no mood to hail a taxi— his back still ached, but he started to walk, just barely slowing his pace so that Beverly could keep up. 

 

"Okay, but Richie, I don't think you should just brush aside the fact that you—" she started, but he just shook his head. 

 

"I'm fine. We can talk about that later, but this is more important," he insisted. "Why is Mike lying about Stanley?" 

 

"I don't know!" She blurted. "But we have to do something. Bill— this will destroy him!" 

 

"Well lets be real here, it was going to destroy him anyway," Richie pointed out, glancing both ways and putting an arm out behind her back as they crossed the street. She scooted a little closer to him and he rested his hand on her waist. It started to sprinkle again. 

 

"I know, but if he finds out that Mike lied, he's going to be even more upset— and if he leaves, we can't do this!" She replied, sifting through her deep raincoat pockets and producing one of those little portable umbrellas. She opened it and held it above their heads as they walked, turning the corner. "We need all of us here if this is going to work. Six is already a risky number for us." 

 

"I know," Richie relented, watching a car approach quickly from the end of the street. "We have to come up with a plan—" the rapidly approaching vehicle ran straight through a puddle, and Richie turned towards Beverly, grabbing the umbrella and shoving her behind him as the water sprayed up. "Fuck you, asshole!" Richie shouted. The water had mostly hit the umbrella— but the cuffs of his jeans and his sneakers were soaked. He handed the contraption back to the distressed redhead and kept walking, mood growing sour— as if it hadn't been before. 

 

"We can't just tell him," Beverly thought aloud. "He'll ask how we know." 

 

"So we tell him we called and all that shit," Richie suggested. 

 

"We can't do that either," she disagreed. "Our only evidence would be that we called and he didn't answer." 

 

"Well, does Stan have a wife? Or, who knows, a husband?" Richie asked. "Someone has to be home. Someone we could contact has to know what happened to him." 

 

"How do we explain where we got his phone number?" Bev asked, exasperated. "We have no evidence to warrant our concern." 

 

"So what?" Richie scoffed. "We sneak into the library and find all of Mike's creepy tabs he kept on us. We find Stan's landline number. We call whoever lives with him, get the info, and confront Mike. Everyone will be more focused on the fact that Mike fuckin' lied to us than they will be about the fact that we went through his stuff." 

 

"I guess so," Beverly said, though she looked anxious. They were getting close to the library. "Should we do it now, or wait until later? He might be on his way here, and if he took a cab then we'll get caught for sure." 

 

"No, we have to do it later," Richie said. "Even if he was walking, he can't be far behind us. We wait for a time when he's out and about— one of us distracts him. The other sneaks in and calls." 

 

"Okay," Beverly agreed uneasily. "I guess we could do that." 

 

"Bev," Richie said, pausing and grabbing her arm. She turned to look at him with huge, worried eyes. Richie pressed his lips together in a thin line and tilted his head. "He deserves to know. They all do." 

 

"I know," she sighed. They started to walk again, silently. The rain pattered against the top of the umbrella and the pavement around them. Richie watched his feet as they walked, frowning deeply. 

 

"Rich, you know Eddie didn't mean what he said earlier," she mentioned as they approached the townhouse. "He's as embarrassed— you wind him up too tight sometimes." 

 

"Whatever," Richie muttered. "I don't care." 

 

"Yes you do," she insisted, stopping on the top step to close the umbrella and shake it out. "You care what he thinks." 

 

"I shouldn't," he grunted, opening the door and stepping in, wiping his feet on the doormat. His voice bounced off of the hollow walls of the mostly empty building. "I shouldn't care what he thinks about that sort of thing." 

 

"But you do," she supplied rather unhelpfully. "You do, and you know he didn't mean it." 

 

"He still said it, though, didn't he?" Richie asked childishly, tossing his hoodie onto the coat hanger. "And what if he's right, Bev? You know how many times I've asked myself the same question he asked me?" 

 

"Richie, don't," she begged, face scrunching up. "Don't do that to yourself." 

 

"I've done this to myself for as long as I can remember," he said, making his way over to the stairs and checking his pockets. 

 

Shit. 

 

He had left his key in the room that morning— and forgotten to get his new one when he had helped Eddie with his keys. He walked back over to the front desk and climbed over it, searching the mailboxes for his room number. 

 

"Rich, there's nothing wrong with you," she insisted. 

 

"Oh, if only you knew," he whispered, reaching up and pulling a spare key out of the mailbox with his number on it. He climbed back over the counter and headed over to the stairs, swinging the key around his finger by the keychain. Louder, he replied, "There's a fuck ton of shit wrong with all of us, Miss Marsh." Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, he cast a glance back at her and shrugged. "It's just part of being a Loser." 

 

With that, he headed up the stairs, leaving her in the lobby. He unlocked his door and tossed the key onto the bed, gaze flitting across the original that he had left on his dresser. He shut the door and kicked his shoes off, plugging his phone into it's charger and sitting through his suitcase until he found a pair of plaid pajama pants. He changed into them and threw his soaked jeans into the corner, switching his t-shirt out for a drier one and flopping down stomach-flat on the mattress. He heard the spare key jingle as they jumped a bit on the bed. 

 

His back seemed to tighten more rather than relax with the rest of him, and he took his glasses off, tossing them onto the bedside table. He glanced at the clock and read 3:45 P.M.. Burying his face in his arms, Richie breathed, eyes squeezing shut. 

 

He thought maybe he could sleep forever. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie jolted awake to the sound of something rapping against the wood of his door rather sharply. 

 

"Who is it?" He called, voice rough and deep with sleep. His clock said it was nearing 6:00. He realized with an almost laughable jolt of uneasiness that this was the longest he had slept for real since longer than he could remember. The previous chance didn't count— it hadn't really happened, after all. 

 

"It's Eddie," came the soft reply. A bitter feeling stirred in Richie's stomach, and he started to sit up, back screaming in protest. He winced, rolling over and flopping back down. He stared up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. 

 

"What do you want?" He rasped, lifting an arm to cover his eyes— it felt cool against his forehead. His room was dim; the clouds made it seem darker outside than it probably was. 

 

"Can I talk to you?" Eddie asked faintly, voice muffled by the wooden barrier between them. "I just— I can't stop thinking about what I said earlier. I knocked on your door when I got here earlier, but I could hear you snoring, and I didn't want to wake you up." 

 

Richie rubbed his eyes and groaned, flinging out an arm and grabbing his glasses. He shoved them onto his face and got up, shuffling barefoot over to the door. He put a hand on the knob and hesitated, frowning deeply. He could just tell him to go away. Conflicting emotions tugged his heart in either direction. He let his head fall forward to rest against the door, and a similar thump told him that Eddie repeated the action, which caused him to smile reluctantly. 

 

"I get it," Eddie mumbled. "If you don't want to open the door, I mean. I get it. I shouldn't have said that to you." 

 

"No, Eds, it's not really that big of a deal," Richie sighed, pinching his brow. "I was just being stupid and sensitive— it's not fair of me to be mad when I make fun of you all the time." 

 

"It's different though," Eddie insisted. "I should have known that you'd feel bad. You always took stuff like that to heart." 

 

"I did not!" Richie disagreed. 

 

"Yes you did!" Eddie insisted. "You were more sensitive than all of us combined— you just thought you were good at hiding it." Richie straightened up and opened the door, scowling. 

 

"How was I bad at hiding it, pray tell?" He demanded. Eddie shoved past him into the room and Richie shut the door, turning around and folding his arms over his chest. 

 

"Well, you just always seemed to think that if you made jokes, and teased other people, they wouldn't notice that you thought the things you made fun of applied to you, too." Eddie shrugged, and even through the dark-ish greyness of the room, Richie could tell his cheeks were red. "Like you were actually making fun of yourself, but using someone else as an outlet," he explained. "Which isn't cool either, but you know, it still kind of sucked to watch you beat yourself up indirectly." 

 

"I didn't beat myself up," Richie grumbled, looking away. He trudged over to his bed and flopped back down, breath hitching as his back throbbed. "I'm so old." 

 

"You're doing it right now!" Eddie accused. "If you're old, we're all old." 

 

"Oh, Spaghetti," Richie sighed, face smashed into his pillow. One leg hung off the side of the bed, and he swung it a little, tapping his foot against the floor. "I am the only elder here. Although, if Stan were here, he'd out-age me by a couple decades at least." 

 

"Well, good thing he'll be here in the morning, then," Eddie laughed, and Richie's stomach churned. 

 

"Yeah," he agreed faintly, mind wandering to his and Bev's plan. "In the morning." He rolled over and grunted. Brows furrowing. "My back hurts." 

 

"Why?" Eddie asked, eyeing him, and Richie swallowed thickly when the brunet's gaze seemed to move excruciatingly slowly down his body. 

 

"I'm stressed," he croaked, putting his arms behind his head. "I don't know. I just feel like all the muscles are all knotted up." 

 

"What muscles?" Eddie snorted, and Richie stuck his tongue out, rolling back over once again onto his stomach. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt fingers brush against his spine, freezing up and staring at the dark wall across the room. 

 

"Eddie?" He asked hoarsely. 

 

"What?" The man whispered back, palm flattening against Richie's back and applying a light pressure. His eyes fluttered shut and his breath hitched. 

 

"You don't have to—" he started to say, but Eddie's fingertips dug into the skin, and he began searching for the tighter spots, hands spidering up and down Richie's back and leaving fiery trails in their wake. 

 

"Shut up, Richie," Eddie muttered, and the bed dipped on Richie's left. He couldn't breathe. A second hand joined the first, and his eyes were stuck open wide, breath caught in his chest. He wasn't sure if he was blushing or if his face was white as a sheet. But slowly, Eddie started to unwind him, starting between his shoulder blades and working his way downwards. 

 

He didn't make a sound. His body was on fire. His breaths came in quick successions, but he refused to voice any of his feelings— Eddie might get scared off. 

 

Part of him felt dirty for allowing this to happen. Eddie was married. He had a wife, a life of his own— but the other half of him was scolding. 

 

It's just a massage. He's not declaring his undying love for you. You're not even shirtless, he's just helping you out. 

 

He tried to convince himself that this was all it was— a friend helping a friend. But when Eddie's hands had crept as low as they dared— dangerously close to the waistband of Richie's pajama pants— and Eddie stalled, palms spread over the small of his back, and Richie felt a hot pair of lips touch the back of his neck, he was almost sure that he had just died. Something snapped in his stomach and he felt like he was about to explode— the fuse had been lit. 

 

"Eddie?" He squeaked, clutching the sheets so tightly that he was sure his knuckles were white. 

 

"Yeah, 'Chee?" 

 

Breath, warm against his skin. Richie's toes curled, and he felt coiled so tight that he might lose it any second. He squeezed his eyes shut, finally letting out a long, trembling gust of air from his lungs. 

 

"Thanks," was all he could manage. A simple, strangled word that he barely choked out. The bed creaked as those searing hands left his back and the owner got to his feet. 

 

"Sure," Eddie replied, and the casual tone in his voice could have had Richie seething, but he was stuck in a sort of limbo. "You gonna have dinner soon?" 

 

Dinner? That was the last thing on his mind. Dessert, though... 

 

Oh my God shut up shut up shut up—

 

"Yup!" He replied shrilly. "Just gotta— you know, get dressed, all that—" 

 

"Good," Eddie's voice replied, and Richie heard his footsteps retreating toward the door. "I was going to head to a little café in the center of town with Bill. You can come if you want." 

 

"I think I'm going to stay here!" Richie said without truly thinking. He bit his lip so hard he almost broke the skin. 

 

"Alright, well, we'll bring you something back, then," Eddie replied. "How's a burger and fries?" 

 

"Okay," Richie said, taking a deep breath. Then he heard a soft chuckle, a 'See you later, 'Chee,' and the click of the door closing. 

 

Richie lay there for a few more seconds, burying his face his his hands and drawing his knees tightly up to his chest. "Oh my God," he almost moaned, running his fingers through his hair and glancing at the door to the bathroom. 

 

He was going to need to take a shower before anyone else came knocking on his door. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

He woke up the next day refreshed, muscles having released the majority of their tension, and beyond embarrassed of the events that had succeeded in keeping him up for almost the entire night. He had drifted off around 3:00 in the morning. Now it was 7:00, and he was awake, but not as tired as he had expected to be. 

 

"So what's the plan?" Bev pulled him aside at the top of the stairs, and Richie hesitated. He glanced over her shoulder and saw Bill exiting his room, a bright expression on his face and a hopeful look in his eyes as he scanned the doors in their hall. 

 

"I don't know," Richie admitted. "I was angry yesterday, and I feel like sneaking in to Mike's place might not be the best idea—" 

 

"Thank God," Bev sighed, placing a hand over her forehead. "I thought you were going to go through with it— there was no way that would work." 

 

"I know, I'm sorry," he grumbled, shaking his head. "I think maybe we should just see how things play out, for now. Stan isn't here. Mike is going to have to have some kind of explanation, and if he lies again, we'll confront him. How's that sound?" 

 

"More rational than anything I'd expect from you," she admitted, giving him a strange look. They started to head down the stairs. "Anyway, how are things with Eddie? When everyone got back from the restaurant he looked real upset. Said he was going to try to talk to you. I didn't see him for the rest of the night, so something must have either gone very wrong, or surprisingly right." She winked, nudging Richie's shoulder with her own, and he nearly choked on air, face darkening immensely. The ghost of Eddie's fingers dancing across his spine flashed in his mind and he forced the thought away, coughing awkwardly. 

 

"I was asleep," he said, which was true— he had been. Then, more uncomfortably, he added, "So he came back at like, six. We talked it out, we're good." 

 

"'Talked it out?'" She repeated, raising her eyebrows. "That's it?" 

 

"Yeah, that's fuckin' it," Richie insisted, sure that his red cheeks were betraying him. "Jesus, Bev, you'd think we were horny teens who snuck away from a party or something." 

 

"It wouldn't be the first time," she snipped. 

 

"What?!" Richie asked, heart skipping a beat. Beverly snorted. 

 

"Don't tell me you don't remember," she laughed. "Junior year, your stupid baseball game. Everyone was cold and hungry and you hated it— so, half way through, we all decided to go get food but you and Eddie stayed behind. We all just kind of assumed you were making out somewhere." 

 

"We were not," Richie said, turning away and folding his arms across his chest. "We were not." 

 

"Sure, Tozier," Bev wrinkled her nose, smiling. "You two were inseparable. I'd be shocked if you were and you just can't remember it yet." 

 

"Well, ask him if you're so sure," Richie sniffed. 

 

"Okay," she shrugged, turned and headed to the bottom of the stairs. "Hey, Lover Boy!" 

 

"Wait!" Richie cried. "I was kidding—" 

 

"Eddie!" She shouted, louder this time. 

 

"What?" He yelled back from his room. She threw a devilish smirk at Richie over her shoulder, then clasped her hands innocently behind her back. 

 

"I have a question for you!" She answered. There was silence, then soft footsteps, and then he appeared, heading down the stairs. 

 

"What is it?" He asked, gaze fixing unwaveringly on Richie, though he spoke to Bev. 

 

"You remember the last Losers Club baseball game our junior year?" She asked simply, twirling a strand of hair around her slender finger. 

 

"Sure," he replied, brow furrowing. "He was pissed when you guys wanted to end the game early."

 

"Yup," she agreed, and Richie fought the urge to leave, rooted to the spot under the watchful gaze of a certain brunet. "Is as wondering— when you and Richie stayed behind, what did you do?" 

 

"To the clubhouse," Eddie answered easily. "We would have brought you guys with us but you all wanted to get food in town."

 

"And what did you guys do?" She ventured, tilting her head. "Cause, see, the others and I think that you guys were making out— but Richie claims he doesn't remember that. So I thought I'd ask you, like Richie so thoughtfully suggested." 

 

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Eddie shrugged. 

 

"What?!" Richie shrieked. Eddie flinched, eyes widening. "You were supposed to say no!" 

 

"Who cares what they think we did?" Eddie asked irritably. "We know that all we did was listen to your stupid mixtapes and drink coke."

 

"Are you sure?" Beverly drawled, and for a single, heart-stopping moment, Richie thought he saw a flicker of shameful doubt in his friend's eyes— then the moment was gone, and he shook his head. 

 

"Positive," he confirmed, but he was looking at Richie strangely. Richie flushed, biting the inside of his cheek. 

 

"Anyway," Eddie mumbled, slipping past Bev and heading for the door, "Mike wants us to take a walk. On our own. I'm not thrilled, but whatever, you know? I guess I'll see you guys later." He brushed past Richie, throwing a long, lasting look at him as he passed, and left. 

 

"I'm going too!" Richie said loudly, grabbing his now-dry sweatshirt on the way by the coat hanger and following the brunet. 

 

"You walking?" Eddie asked as the door clicked shut. Richie hesitated, taking out his wallet. 

 

"I'm calling a cab," he decided. "Wanna share? On me." 

 

"No, I'm good," Eddie refused, glancing up at the sky. "Walking clears my head." 

 

"Where are you going?" Richie asked, realizing he had never talked to Eddie about what he saw when they all split up. Eddie smiled grimly and sighed. 

 

"Keene's drug store," he answered. "Lame, I know." 

 

"Not really," Richie disagreed, stepping out onto the curb and watching a cab make its way towards them. He stuck out his arm and waited. "That place was your safe haven." 

 

"Hardly," Eddie laughed. "My safe haven was wherever you were." Richie glanced over his shoulder as the cab stopped in front of him, and Eddie froze, cheeks reddening. "All of you, I mean," he amended, shaking his head. Richie smiled, opening the cab and starting to climb in. 

 

"This is your last chance, Eds," he offered, leaving the door open. "Don't want to hitch a ride?" 

 

Eddie seemed to consider, biting his lip. Then he smiled and shook his head. "I'm okay," he said, putting his hands in his pockets. "I'll see you around, Richie." He started to walk away, and Richie closed the door, leaning back in his seat. 

 

"Later, Eds," he mumbled under his breath, then leaned forward. "Hey, how quick can you get me to the old ballpark on Neibolt?"

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Derry, Autumn of 1993

 

 

"And it's live!" Richie shrieked, the momentum of the bat carrying him forward slightly. A satisfying crack had shattered the almost-silent field just milliseconds earlier, and now a white sphere was hurtling itself into the outfields. "She's going!" He cried, breaking into a run and dropping the bat. "She's going!" The ball started to glide back downwards just as he rounded first. 

 

"H-H-He's o-out!" Bill cried as the ball landed in his glove. Richie came to a skidding stop and groaned, tumbling to the ground. "R-Richie Tozier marks the tuh-hop of the second w-w-with his major flop!" He was running back now, cheeks red against the slight chill.

 

"You guys have no idea how to speak baseball," Beverly joined in the conversation, stepping up to the plate and swinging the bat through the air. "It's not the top of the second until there have been three outs in the bottom of the first— Rich was only the first." 

 

"Yeah, Bill," Richie snarked, getting up and dusting off his pants. He took off his cap and turned it backwards on his head, flipping him the bird. "You're totally out of our league." 

 

"His team wouldn't be able to face yours if it was out of your league," Stan corrected from his place behind Bev— he was the umpire. The first time they had played, he had refused the activity and thus fixed their problem with the odd number. 

 

"We win every time," Richie pointed out dryly. 

 

"You have Mike!" Ben protested from the below-ground dugout. "He can wack that thing into tomorrow." 

 

"So get better, New Kid!" Bev taunted. "Eds, you gonna pitch me, or what?" 

 

"Don't call him that!" Richie whined, trudging towards his team's dugout. "Stop stealing my things!" 

 

There was a bubble of laughter behind him, and the game resumed as he took off his cap, throwing it down into the dugout and following. He picked up his water and took a few sips, leaning against the chilly stone wall and shuddering as goosebumps broke out along the bare skin of his arms. 

 

They had started playing their little three on three baseball games back when they had started to lose interest in the clubhouse. Everything in there was just slightly too small now— high school juniors couldn't sit in that tiny hammock. 

 

Eddie probably could, Richie corrected himself with a small smirk, and he walked up the steps of the dugout, watching with careful eyes that found the brunet easily. 

 

He had never loved the idea of them all playing baseball, but he sucked it up. Now, there he was in the Autumn sun, sweatpants hanging loosely on his hips and a t-shirt clinging to his sweat-soaked frame. It didn't take a lot of action to get Eddie tired. His hair was sticking to his forehead in a few places. 

 

Yet, despite all of this, his cheeks and nose were slightly red, and Richie thought he could see the boy's breath coming from his mouth in soft puffs of white. He watched his eyes— dark, calculating, making a decision— his tongue darted out to wet his lips. Richie swallowed thickly and watched him wind up for the pitch. 

 

He wasn't good at this, that much was evident, but at least he could throw it straight. He gave it a measly toss, and sure enough, the smash of Beverly's bat against the ball sent it spiraling up and away. She dropped it and ran. Eddie watched her go with minimal interest— then his gaze settled on Richie, and he knew he had been caught staring, because the brunet was squinting at him with that vaguely annoyed but also smug expression. 

 

Richie tore his gaze away and made his way back up onto the field. Mike was stepping up to the plate just as Bill hurried back with the ball and Beverly slid to third, probably bruising up her legs a ton— she always wore short pants, even in the fall. 

 

"I'm hungry," Ben piped up from his spot— he was on third, paying Bev a visit, and dropping his glove. "Can we stop soon?" 

 

"Please," Stan said, pulling the helmet off of his head and shaking out his light curls. Richie's gaze flitted over to Bill, and he knew this was it. This was the end of the game. Bill was smiling, watching, nearly entranced. So far gone. He rolled his eyes and wondered how anyone could have that much influence over a person. 

 

"Do you guys wanna hang out at the clubhouse after?" Eddie asked, and Richie strolled over to him, smirking under the brunet's watchful gaze. 

 

"I would love to, Spaghetti," he drawled, reaching out to pinch his cheek— but Eddie dodged, smacking his hand away. 

 

"Don't call me that," he warned, voice prickly. Richie clicked his tongue, shaking his head. His gaze raked over the rosiness of Eddie's cheeks and the splash of freckles that always dusted his face. 

 

"L-L-Let's go s-see what's cheap in tuh-tuh-town now," Bill suggested, and a murmured of agreement was roused from all but the Trashmouth himself. 

 

"Come on, you guys!" He protested. "We've hardly gotten started. We always bail out early on these games." 

 

"We're all cold and hungry, Richie," Stan replied, and his voice held a note of finality— Richie knew what Stan said goes— but he couldn't help but sulk. He folded his arms over his chest and scowled. 

 

"Well—" he started to say, fishing blindly for an excuse. "Well I'm staying!" 

 

"Fine," Stan said, shrugging his shoulders. "Stay." 

 

"And Eddie is staying, too!" Richie added, reaching out and grabbing the brunet's wrist. 

 

"What?!" Eddie protested, trying to pull away, but Richie held on tightly. "No I'm not! I'm hun—" He was silenced as Richie clamped a hand over his mouth, flared around at his friends, wiggles his eyebrows, and pulled his best friend towards the dugout. 

 

"Let go!" Eddie demanded, shoving at Richie's arms and yanking himself away. He was seething. "What the fuck, Richie?! Why are you so upset over a fucking game? You're seventeen, not five. Act like it." He glowered at the freckled boy, who shrank back, standing a few steps lower so that he was, for once, shorter. 

 

"I just—" He cut himself off, shaking his head and turning away. "Whatever. Go have lunch. I don't care." 

 

"You just what?" Eddie asked. He still sounded angry— but there was a tinge of concern. Richie grabbed his hat off the ground and shoved it back onto his head, grabbing his backpack and stuffing whatever baseballs he could find into the bottom, cramming his glove on top. "Rich, answer me!" Eddie insisted, and his voice bounced off of the closed-in walls. Richie turned around and suddenly felt very trapped. His breath hitched and he glanced at either wall, so close he could touch both at the same time. 

 

"I just feel like I never get my way anymore!" He exploded, kicking a loose bit of grass in the corner and watch it flip over, roots sticking into the air. "I feel like— like all the things we used to do when we were kids, nobody wants to do anymore! Everyone is all grown up." 

 

"Because we are growing up, 'Chee," Eddie said softly, getting closer. Richie clutched his back tighter, angry bitterness beginning to churn in his stomach. 

 

"I don't want to!" He grumbled selfishly, looking down at his feet. A chilly hand grazed his cheek, and he felt Eddie ease his way closer, drawing his bag out of his hands. 

 

"Sometimes you've gotta," Eddie whispered. "God knows we all wanna get out of this shithole, Rich. If I could turn eighteen today and be up and out of here within the hour, I would." 

 

"Well, don't leave me behind," Richie said, leaning his head into Eddie's palm. The brunet smiled sadly and ran his thumb along Richie's cheekbone. 

 

"You're such an idiot," he laughed, shaking his head and pulling Richie down so their faces were closer. "You know I would never leave you behind." 

 

"Even if I call you 'Eds', and 'Spaghetti', or you get tired of all of my mom jokes?" He asked hopefully, earning one of those giggles that made his heart skip a beat. He was smiling now, too, and they were breathing the same air, they were so close— Eddie pushed the brim of his hat up and out of his face so their foreheads could touch, so he could nuzzle his nose into Richie's cheek. 

 

"Oh, those got old as soon as you started to tell them," he assured the taller boy, smiling. "But they're so you. And that's not something I'd give up for the world." 

 

It was a rare thing for Richie to feel loved, but when Eddie kissed him tenderly, the way he had only done twice in the past, it was undeniably the way he felt in that second. His whole body had emerged into this peaceful warmness— he felt like he was floating on a cloud. Suddenly, he could see the future— somewhere far from Derry, he woke up in a warm bed, and the first thing he saw was the sleeping, freckled face of the cutest brunet he had ever laid eyes on. 

 

A hand brushed his, grabbed it, and brought his palm to be pressed against a chest. He felt a rapid heartbeat, and his cheeks darkened, even when Eddie pulled away from his mouth. 

 

"You feel me?" Eddie whispered. "Feel how scared you make me?" 

 

"I sure hope that's not just because of the sheer nerves," Richie rumbled, his voice deep and gruff. Eddie laughed breathlessly, shaking his head. 

 

"You're impossible." 

 

"Feel me, too." Richie reversed the roles, pressing Eddie's palm to his chest and sharing his erratic heartbeat. "That's all you, Sugar." Eddie didn't reply, simply kissed him again, only this time, it was deeper. More sensitive. Richie's eyes fluttered shut, and he moved, wrapping an arm around Eddie's waist and pulling him close enough that they were flush. 

 

A tongue, discreet and sneaky, swept across his lower lip. Richie eased his mouth open against Eddie's, allowing his own tongue to slide across the brunet's as his fingers tangled in the hair at the base of his neck. 

 

Richie didn't realize he had started to back up until his legs hit the bench and he was sitting. Eddie climbed into his lap and pulled away, a string of saliva connecting their mouths for a brief second before he wiped it away with some disgust. Richie leaned his head back and stared at the boy, a simple silhouette framed by the harsh light peeking through the top of the dugout. 

 

I love you. 

 

"You're beautiful," he said. Eddie pushed some hair out of his face, taking his cap all the way off and setting it aside. A pair of warm lips touched his forehead, and he shivered, suddenly aware of how cold it actually was. 

 

"We should try to catch up with the others," Eddie prompted, and Richie tugged absently at the tied drawstring of Eddie's sweats, frowning. 

 

"Can't we just wait at the clubhouse for them to be done?" He suggested, trying not to sound too hopeful. Eddie always shut these things down before they got too serious— although the fact that he was sitting in Richie's lap with his knees on either side of Richie's hips without absolutely ravaging him was a serious issue. 

 

"No, I'm hungry," Eddie insisted, shifting his weight— 

 

Oh—

 

—and getting up. Richie's face was beet-red. Eddie brushed off his shirt calmly, running his fingers through his hair. He looked up at a rendered useless and unspeaking boy and smirked.  

 

"Unless you had any better ideas."

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The fact that Beverly had been right was not the most important part of what he had just witnessed, but it was certainly the most frustrating, and it was what Richie chose to cling to. After all, it was easier to be upset about being wrong than it was to confront the confirmation of a forgotten relationship— although the desperate longing to rekindle that clear spark with the sassy brunet was now stronger than ever. 

 

More than anything, Richie felt loss. He missed the feeling of Eddie's lips, a perfect fit against his, and actually remembering them now almost made the fact that they weren't his hurt even more than it had before. He missed someone who was hardly a mile away. 

 

"He'll never miss you the way you miss him." A gruff, hardly recognizable voice growled. Richie whirled around. Henry Bowers stood blocking the exit of the dugout. He was just as pudgy as the last time— wrinkled, greasy-haired, and rat-like. The switchblade was wielded before him in a trembling hand. He grinned, revealing yellowed and rotting teeth. "Nice to see you again, Faggot." 

 

"What the fuck do you want?" Richie asked, eyes darting around for an escape. He could try to get around Henry— but the odds of him escaping without a stab wound were slim. He could try to jump up and squirm out of the gap between the dugout's roof and the ground, but if Henry was as fast as he used to be— 

 

Unlikely—

 

— he could get stabbed in the leg, or worse, if he was too slow, the torso somewhere. 

 

His options were slim to none, and he was realizing this with growing dread. 

 

"To kill you," Henry replied, and Richie didn't love the maniacal spark in his icy blue eyes— or, were they amber? They seemed to swim between the two colors. Blue one second, amber the next, or were they each one or the other? He couldn't really tell, but they once again itched that distant thought, the moment that had been locked away deep in his mind ever since all of this had begun. 

 

"Well, a fatass like yourself is gonna be given a run for his money," Richie said, raising his eyebrows. "Even by me, and that's saying something." Henry snarled, taking a threatening step forward, and Richie backed up, the cool wall hitting his back faster than he had been expecting it to. "I'm serious, man, I've really let myself go over these past few years—" 

 

"Shut the fuck up, faggot!" Henry roared, and Richie tried not to flinch. Suddenly, he was thirteen again, and they were in the arcade— Henry was screaming at him—

 

(He was sitting by the bridge— looking at his carving.)

 

Richie blinked rapidly, shoving the memory away. "No," he mumbled absently. "I don't want to remember." 

 

"Oh, but don't you?" Henry sneered, coming closer still— God, why didn't the town make the dugouts bigger— and he was smiling wildly, crazily. "You've been wondering— reaching for it, touching it, getting a taste, only for it to be ripped away, ever since this whole shitshow began. It showed me... and It can show you, too, Faggot. It can show you through me." 

 

"No," Richie breathed, glancing up at the gap. Could he even fit through? The sky was full and grey— a boring strip of murky clouds. It seemed to grow smaller, smaller, only a small child could fit through— 

 

"Yes!" Henry replied frantically. He was almost too close for Richie to have any time to move— he had to make a choice. "Yes, you piece of shit, yes! You want to know— You're practically begging to know— and I can show you! I can show you!" He cackled, and Richie let out a shuddering exhale. 

 

This was it. 

 

Henry took one step closer. 

 

Richie lunged for the gap. His arms flew through— he grabbed fistfuls of grass and dirt, clawing his way forward, heart pounding in his rib cage— there was a frustrated scream behind him, and for a moment, his legs dangled precariously over the edge— panic seized him when a hand closed around his ankle. 

 

"Beep-beep, Richie," a sickeningly cheerful voice said, and he craned his neck, seeing a pair of worn old shoes with red pom-poms on the end, crusted with dried crimson and brown substances, tickling his nose, they were so close— he looked up and saw the face of It, of Pennywise, of his worst nightmare staring back at him with a horrible, twisted grin. 

 

"You're not done down there yet!" It laughed, and Richie flinched when It kicked it's toe up, tip of it's boot colliding with his chin. He let out a horrified cry when he began to be dragged backwards, fingers leaving deep claw marks in the grass and dirt— rivers where he had tried to grip, but the dirt was wet with rain, and the grass was slippery. 

 

"No," Richie gasped, kicking at the hands and fighting his way back towards the clown. He flung his arms out, grabbing for It's legs, for a rock lodged in the ground, anything to anchor him outside of the dugout, but he found nothing. "No!" He screamed. "No, stop, stop!" 

 

He fell back into the dugout and landed on his ass, scrambling back, hitting the wall once again. He looked back up at the gap and saw Pennywise's face looming over him, a sinister grin only amplified by his sharp red makeup. Henry towered over him, knife pointed down at him, and Richie breathed hard, sure that he would pass out if this continued. 

 

"You'll remember perfectly clear by the time I'm through with you," Henry growled, and Richie watched with deathly terror as the man's free hand began to drift towards the drawstring of his asylum-wear— the corner of his shirt read 'Juniper Hill', and Richie swallowed thickly, the name vaguely familiar. 

 

"Fuck off, man," he said faintly, planting his palms against the ground to support himself and kicking the man's knee with all of his strength. Henry stumbled backwards, howling at the jarring force that bent his leg slightly further back than it perhaps belonged— and fell. The knife clattered from his hands and Richie surged forwards, clambering over the man and grasping for it wildly. 

 

His fingers touched the cool metal, and he grabbed at it frantically, kicking away the struggling hands that were fastening into his jeans, his shirt, his hoodie, whatever they could reach. He scrambled to his feet and ran for the stairs of the dugout, suddenly sure that It would be standing there, blocking his way, but the exit was clear. He bolted up the stairs and nearly tripped over his own two feet as he ran for his life. 

 

He was wrestling his phone out of his pocket before he even reached the other side of the field, dialing the first number that popped up on his contacts— 

 

Mike. 

 

"Hello?" The deep voice answered calmly. "Richie, what's—" 

 

"Come get me!" Richie cried frantically, finally breaking out of the gap in the fence— his foot caught a rock on the path and he flew forward, phone skittering out of his hand. The knife disappeared as well— he hit the ground, all of the breath exiting his body in a rush. Pain exploded in his chin when it struck the dirt, and he lay there, winded, for longer than he knew he should. 

 

He felt like his limbs were moving through water, not fast enough, faster, fucking go— 

 

He got up and glanced into the field, scooping up his phone and not bothering to search for the blade. A figure was dragging itself out of the dugout, leg bent strangely, limping up the stairs. His heart leaped into his throat, and Richie held the cracked phone to his ear, starting to speed walk again. 

 

"Mike? Holy shit, Mike, I don't even know if you're still there, but come get me, please," he begged, near tears. "I'm at the baseball park on Neibolt— hurry. 

 

"He's going to kill me." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie ran until he could hardly breathe anymore and a beat-up old car swung around the corner, screeching to a stop beside him. Mike had climbed out, slamming the door and practically flying over the hood of the car to get to him. 

 

"Jesus, Rich, what happened—" 

 

"I don't want to talk about it," Richie said dully, climbing into the passenger seat and closing the door behind him. Mike stood by his window for a moment, dumbfounded, then got in on the driver's side and pulled away from the curb. "Is anyone back yet?" He asked after a minute, staring blankly out the window. He reached up and touched his chin, pulling his hand back to find his fingers red and felt something dripping down his neck. 

 

"Ben," Mike replied. "And Beverly. Eddie and Bill are still MIA— but it's only been an hour. Richie, are you okay?" He asked, changing the subject abruptly. The car ride was short— they were pulling up to the townhouse already. 

 

"Yeah," Richie whispered, getting out and stumbling up to the door. He didn't bother waiting for Mike— simply headed inside, flinching upon hearing Beverly's horrified gasp and feeling a pair of hands grip his face. 

 

"Don't," he gasped, drawing away sharply and nearly falling over. She stared at him, fingertips red, and his chin throbbed. Tears once again threatened to spill, and he forced them away, breaths coming in wheezing gasps. "I just—" he almost whimpered. "Please don't touch me," he finally begged, reaching up to cover his chin. It stung like crazy. 

 

"What the hell, Rich?" She asked, worry dominating her expression. He tried to smile, but couldn't. Ben came up to stand beside her, frowning deeply. 

 

"I—" he started to say, but the door slammed open, and Mike entered, followed by a disgusting Eddie. He started to storm by, caught sight of Richie, and faltered, eyes widening in shock. Then he looked away, sped up and disappeared upstairs. 

 

"Oh my God." Bev covered her mouth with a shaking hand. Richie started to follow Eddie blindly, knees threatening to give out beneath him with every step. 

 

"I'm just gonna..." he trailed off faintly, his wobbling legs carrying him up the stairs. Eddie was struggling with his lock and Richie checked his pockets. "Shit." He stared at his door, behind which both keys sat in his empty room. Eddie spared him another glance, finally opening his door. Richie looked back, hesitating. Eddie frowned, and took a breath. 

 

"Do you need to use my bathroom?" He asked, almost shyly. 

 

"Please," Richie agreed in a broken whisper, walking into the brunet's room and heading straight for the shower. "Can I use this?" 

 

"Let me fix your chin first," Eddie requested, gesturing to the toilet, and Richie flipped the lid down, sitting atop it and sighing. Eddie opened one of his medical supply bags, sifting through, and produced a pack of bandages. Richie watched in silence as he bustled around the room, gathering things— a cloth, rubbing alcohol, whatever he could get his hands on. 

 

"I'm okay," Richie tried to say, but Eddie shushed him, running water over the cloth and wringing it out. Richie hissed in pain when the fabric touched his face, trying to push Eddie's hands away, but the brunet smacked his arms down with his free hand. 

 

"Stop moving," he mumbled, face dangerously close as his brow furrowed in concentration. Once he had wiped all of the blood from Richie's skin, he grabbed a different cloth, and the sharp smell of rubbing alcohol hit Richie's nostrils. 

 

"It stings!" He complained, trying to flinch away, but Eddie curled a hand around the back of his head and held him still. Richie hardly breathed as Eddie tilted his head back, fingers tingling into his curls, examining his chin. 

 

"Shut the fuck up," the brunet muttered, breath touching Richie's cheek. "I'm almost done." He spread some sort of clear substance on a bandage and pressed it to Richie's skin, fingers lingering on Richie's cheeks as his thumbs smoothed the bandage against his chin. Even when he finished, he didn't back away. 

 

"Eddie," Richie mumbled, and God, the lips that he finally remembered, finally knew to miss, were so close that it hurt. 

 

"Yeah?" Eddie replied, forehead touching Richie's. Whatever he was covered in smelled awful— but Richie just picked up the wet cloth, turning it over to a part that wasn't bloody, and began to clean his face. 

 

He wiped Eddie's mouth gently, tilting his chin up and venturing close enough that it was a clear question— a clear offer, or even a request. 

 

"The day of the baseball game Bev was talking about," he said, eyes fluttering shut. "Down in the dugout after. I remembered today what we did. Before we went to the clubhouse, I mean." 

 

"I did too," Eddie breathed. "But I remembered as soon as she asked. I just didn't want to embarrass you." 

 

"Oh, well, that was thoughtful of you," Richie laughed breathlessly. "I wouldn't have thought about that if the roles were reversed." 

 

"I know, cause you're an asshole," Eddie accused, and Richie's heart nearly stopped when a weight settled itself in his lap. He lifted his arms, curling them around Eddie's waist. 

 

"But you like me," he said. 

 

"I do," the man agreed, slipping his ring off and placing it on the sink counter. "God help me, I do." Then Eddie kissed him. Richie sighed against his lips, and despite his best efforts, his mouth fell open almost immediately. He may not have had his eyes opened, but he was sure Eddie was rolling his under his eyelids, even as his tongue slipped past his lips. 

 

Richie allowed his head to tilt further back, and Eddie had to shift closer on his lap, knees parting wider to fit closer against Richie's torso. He bit down on Richie's lip, drawing it backwards with a sharp intake of breath. Richie's eyes cracked open slightly as Eddie let go, breathing with him, and he saw a disheveled man with dark circles under his eyes and a sour expression. 

 

"This is filthy," Eddie informed him. "We're both disgusting." 

 

"Well, you did offer me a shower," Richie mumbled without thinking, and Eddie smacked his shoulder. "Ow, I was just—!" 

 

"No peeking," Eddie said, cheeks red. Richie's heart leaped into his throat, and he nodded faintly. 

 

Eddie got up and started the water. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"Mike has something to tell us," Bev told Richie and Eddie when they ventured back downstairs. She snuck a look at Richie, who felt rather light and airy— a certain warmth seemed to blanket him. Eddie was by his side, clutching his hand and leading him into the room. 

 

"Oh, really?" He asked, mind distant. He felt the others' eyes on him— but he couldn't care less. He was over the moon. 

 

This is the one, he thought. It has to be. 

 

"Yeah," Bev said. Eddie's grip on Richie's hand tightened, and he snapped to attention. 

 

"Okay," he said, smiling goofily. "I'm listening." He looked at Mike, who's eyes held guilt and anxiety. Euphoria beginning to fade, Richie swallowed thickly, and looked over to Bev, who was pursuing her lips. "Oh," he realized aloud, looking back at Mike. "Oh." 

 

"What?" Eddie asked, and Richie hesitated, scratching the back of his neck with his free hand. 

 

"Nothing, I just— I'm paying attention now," he stared awkwardly. "Go ahead, Mikey." 

 

"Okay," the man murmured, getting to his feet. He glanced around uneasily, clasping his hands together. "I haven't—" he shook his head, frowning. "I haven't been totally honest with you guys." 

 

"W-W-What do you m-mean?" Bill asked sharply. "M-Mike, honesty is one of the o-o-only things holding us together." 

 

"I know!" The man replied, pinching his brow. "But I was scared you would leave— I thought you'd give up if I told you. I need all of you here for this to work!" 

 

"What happened, Mike?" Eddie asked, and his voice was dangerously quiet. He let go of Richie's hand, fists clenched, and Richie saw a cold anger in his eyes— he wondered if somehow Eddie knew, too. "Tell us, now." 

 

"Stanley is dead," Mike mumbled ashamedly. Silence met his words, and although he had already been aware, Richie's stomach flipped at the confession. He lifted a hand to his mouth and wiped his lips, averting his eyes. 

 

"W-W-What?" Bill asked faintly, falling back into the seat behind him. "W-W-W-W—" 

 

"He died the night I made the calls," Mike whispered. "Slit his wrists." 

 

"Oh my God," Eddie choked. Richie turned to look at him in alarm. His face was pale— he was shaking. "Oh my God," he repeated, expression crumpling. 

 

"Eds," Richie mumbled, reaching out. The brunet turned towards him and pressed his face into Richie's shoulder, arms wrapping around his middle. Shocked, Richie slowly lowered his arms to surround the man in return, pressing his face into his damp hair. "Shh," he soothed. "It's going to be alright." 

 

"You l-l-l-lied..?" Bill said, and Richie looked over to see him gripping the arms of his chair so tightly that his knuckles were white. "You l-l-lied about that, of all f-f-f-fucking things?" 

 

"Bill, I—" Mike started to say, but Bill was on his feet, grabbing him by the collar before he could finish. 

 

"You sh-sh-should have told us!" He cried, face red with anger. "That w-w-wasn't your secret to k-keep!" 

 

"Bill!" Ben shouted, grabbing his arms and trying to separate them. "This isn't the way, man!" 

 

"He should have tuh-tuh-told us!" Bill yelled, struggling against him. Eddie tightened his hold around Richie, shaking harder, and Richie gathered him up in his arms, clutching him just as tightly. 

 

"It's okay," he whispered shakily. "Don't worry, Eds, it's all going to be okay." He cast a withering look at Mike, but the man was focused on getting away from Bill.

 

"Bill, calm down!" Bev cried. "We're all pissed, and you're right to be upset— but we still have to finish this. You have to let it go for just a little while longer— then you can be as angry as you want." 

 

Bill stopped, taking heaving gulps of air, glaring daggers at Mike— and if looks could kill, that librarian would be dead where he stood. They all stared around at each other warily for a moment— Eddie clutched the back of Richie's shirt into his fists, peeking out at the others briefly. 

 

"Okay," Bill growled. "But as s-soon as this is o-o-over, you're duh-duh-dead, Hanlon." 

 

"Deal," Mike said, brushing off his shirt. "We'd better get going." 

 

Nobody spoke as they filed out the door. They didn't drive in the same cars this time— Bev and Bill drove with Richie and Eddie in the rental. Ben, glancing awkwardly between everyone, opted to accompany Mike. 

 

Bill was driving, and they pulled ahead a little bit just two minutes into the drive when a light stopped Mike. Eddie sat beside Richie, and he reached out, tangling their fingers together. Bev eyed them through the rear-view mirror. 

 

"So what's this about?" She asked after a few minutes of silence. Eddie blushes, looking down at their hands, and Richie managed a weak smile. 

 

"As much as I hate to admit it, Miss March, as I discovered earlier today, you were correct about the baseball game situation," he replied. Her smile became smug, and she raised her eyebrows, so he reluctantly continued. "It's been twenty-seven years. Give a guy a break." 

 

"You know, I only ask because I heard the shower run once— but you both have wet hair." She shrugged, and directed her gaze out the window. "Interesting, that's all." 

 

"That's so not funny," Eddie snipped, making a face. 

 

"Yeah," Richie piped up, "and so none of your business." He wasn't sure why he felt so defensive— normally he would joke about things like this— but he looked at Eddie and his heart sped up, and he felt possessive. 

 

This was theirs. 

 

"We're a-almost there," Bill interrupted. They pulled around a corner, and Richie looked at the street sign, stomach churning. They passed the ballpark— and he thought he saw a lump in the middle of it— but they flashed by, and he just tightened his grip on Eddie's hand, frowning. 

 

"You guys ready?" Bev asked. She looked out the window at the house and sighed. 

 

"Guess so," Richie muttered, letting go of Eddie and getting out of the car. Eddie climbed out after him and Richie tugged him around the back of the van, pulling him close and placing a chaste kiss on his mouth. 

 

"What was that for?" The brunet murmured, smiling softly as they parted, and Richie glanced at the house, stomach churning. He knew what lay below it— he knew what might happen if he wasn't careful enough this time. He could lose this. 

 

"Just—" he started to say, looking down at Eddie's face, and commuting it to memory, even though he knew he could never forget it— not again. "I just love you," he breathed, and it was almost a weight off his chest. 

 

Almost. 

 

Eddie's smile grew wider, and he looked up at him with sparkling eyes as Ben and Mike pulled up, parking in front of them. Eddie wrapped his arms around Richie's neck and pulled him down, kissing his cheek. 

 

"I love you too," he whispered. "I think I always did." 

 

"Well that's a fucking relief," Richie muttered, earning a soft giggle and a smack to the shoulder. They circled back around, Eddie leading Richie by the hand, and headed into the front yard of Neibolt. 

 

"Alright you guys," Mike said, and they all gathered in front of the steps. "Here goes nothing." 

 

Richie hasn't expected to feel okay entering the house, but he really did. He slid an arm around Eddie's waist, holding him close and navigating the front entrance with a calm heartbeat and a cautious attitude. Eddie shoves his arm off at first, but Richie was insistent— he wasn't going to lose this time. 

 

"Just let me," he finally begged in a soft whisper. "Please." Eddie looked at him with a wrinkled nose— Cute— and reluctantly eased himself under Richie's arm, eventually curling his fingers into the front of his shirt. 

 

"Should we just head straight down?" Ben asked, looking at the door to the kitchen. 

 

"I think so," Mike said. "Straight shot in, kill It, straight shot out." 

 

"I think we should be careful," Richie said. "Bowers was lurking around on this street earlier." Eddie stiffened next to him. 

 

"How do you know that?" He demanded. Richie sighed, pressing a kiss to the side of his head. 

 

"I didn't split my chin open chasing my own tail, Eds," he replied. "He's lurking around. That's all there is to it." 

 

"And you didn't think to tell us before?" Bev demanded. "What the fuck, Richie? He could have come after one of us." 

 

"Well, sorry!" He said, scowling. "I busted his leg, he could hardly stand— I figured he wasn't going anywhere!" 

 

"Yeah, and he survived a fall down that well, if he's really alive like you said!" Eddie countered. "Anyone who survives that— and can still walk after— can get up from a little injury like whatever you might have done." 

 

"Alright, I get it," he grumbled. "I'm sorry." 

 

"It's okay," Bev sighed. "Just— tell us things next time, okay?" 

 

"Hopefully there won't be a next time," he mumbled," leading Eddie down the hall. Soft footsteps thumped on the floor above their head and dust particles came down from the ceiling. Everyone froze, holding their breath. 

 

"The Losers came to play!" A muffled voice called. Richie shuddered, tightened his grip, and started to walk again. 

 

"If we hurry, we might lose him in the sewers," he suggested, pulling Eddie into the kitchen. The door slammed shut behind them and he flinched, whirling around just as Bill started to pound on it from the other side. 

 

"R-Richie!" He shouted. "Open the door!" 

 

"I can't!" Richie yelled back, letting go of Eddie and trying the knob, but it wouldn't budge. "Listen, Bill— Take everyone and go under the porch! Remember the day with the—" 

 

The words died in his mouth. The day with the werewolf. 

 

"The day we came here?" He finished after a moment. "The window. Get them all in through there— we'll meet you!" 

 

"Okay!" Came the muffled reply. 

 

Richie took a deep breath, and turned to face Eddie. The brunet was staring at him with a pale face and anxious eyes. Richie took a step towards him. 

 

"Eddie—" 

 

The fridge burst open and Eddie stumbled backwards, screaming. Stanley rolled out, crunching, oozing and crackling along the wooden floor, strangled grunts and whines spilling from his mouth. Eddie backed into the corner and Richie started towards him again, but Stan flew upwards, teeth bared and sharp to a point. He grinned, swaying where he stood. 

 

"So you finally got what you wanted," his chilling voice rasped, and it was almost like he spoke directly into Richie's mind— it felt like someone had poured ice water down his spine. "How long do you think it's going to last?" 

 

"As long as I live," Richie spat. "You won't take him from me again— I won't let you." Stan laughed, a shrill, bone-chilling laugh. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie whimpered, and Richie looked over Stan's head at where the man stood in the corner of the room. "What is he talking about?" 

 

"Nothing," Richie forces. "He's just trying to scare you, Eddie. Don't listen to him." 

 

"Just trying to scare him!" Stan giggled, stalking towards Richie. "Just trying to scare him! What if the roles reversed, huh, Funny Boy? What if we made your Lover Boy watch you die?" 

 

"You won't," Richie snarled, hands balling into fists. "You won't touch him." 

 

"I beg to differ!" Stan screeched, snapping his teeth and hissing. Drool leaked from his mouth and flew off in strings. "I think we're going to rip his mind apart just as intricately as we're destroying yours—" 

 

"Leave him alone!" Richie yelled, taking a few steps and driving his foot into Stan's stomach. He fell back, screeching, and Richie kicked him again, heart beating wildly. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie cries, surging forward. Stan's spidery fingers closed against Richie's foot. He jerked it away and stomped on the thing's face, still yelling. "Richie, stop! It's not moving anymore, stop!" Hands closed around Richie's arm and he stilled, looking down. 

 

Stan's face was bruised and bloodied. It almost seemed indented— wrong, somehow. He was almost unrecognizable. 

 

"I'm sorry," Richie whispered, stumbling backwards. His right foot left a bloody print. "Oh my God... I'm sorry." 

 

"It's okay," Eddie rushed, grasping his face and turning his head. "Shhh... Richie, baby, it's fine. Look at me. It's okay." Richie tried to meet his eyes, heart pounding, and Eddie brushed his curls out of his face, shushing him softly. 

 

"I'm sorry," he whimpered, beginning to shake. 

 

"Richie, don't apologize. It's messing with you. We're fine, okay?" Eddie wrapped his arms around Richie's middle, standing on his tiptoes and kissing his cheek. "We're fine." 

 

"Okay," Richie managed, pressing his face into Eddie's hair. "Okay." 

 

"Ready? We have to go meet the others." Eddie pulled back, grasping Richie's hands, and they both looked towards the door to the cellar. Richie hesitates, gripped a little bit tighter, and swallowed thickly. 

 

"Okay. Let's go." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Stepping into that cavern, contrary to how walking into the house had been, filled Richie with that same sense of dread as it always did. Their steps echoed— he clutched Eddie as tightly as he could. 

 

This is the one. I won't let go. 

 

But then the battle started. Deafening screams, thundering footsteps, inhuman screeches. 

 

Eddie let go first. 

 

Richie had been searching for a crack in the wall— a place to hide from It, wait things out for a little while, gather themselves— then the spider was right on top of them, and one of it's legs struck the brunet a little too hard. 

 

He went flying. Richie felt each finger drag across his palm as their hands slipped away from each other. His face went pale as he heard the sickening thus of a body against stone. 

 

"Eddie!" 

 

The scream tore his throat apart. He came to a skidding halt, and the huge clown head watched him run back, easily capable of taking him right then and there, but more focused on the satisfaction of inflicting pain. Richie was by Eddie's side in an instant, dragging him away, finally finding purchase in the cave walls. 

 

"Richie!" He was wheezing, eyes wide and terrified. "Richie, I can't— I cant feel my legs!" Pure terror and panic was engulfing Richie, he couldn't speak, he couldn't breathe, he was blabbering like a madman. 

 

"Oh my God, I can't—" He grasped Eddie's face in violently shaking hands, checking him all over, and he couldn't find anything wrong, he couldn't— 

 

"My legs!" Eddie screamed again, and Richie's trance was shattered. He grabbed Eddie by the armpits and dragged him back, pulling him towards the exit to the cave— he had chosen the right crack in the wall. He had picked the right one. 

 

"Richie, where the fuck are you going?!" Bev shrieked, entering the tunnel and watching with huge eyes. 

 

"He's hurt!" Richie screamed. "He's hurt, I need— I didn't even try last time, I didn't try to get him to a hospital and he died, I have to this time, I have to try—" 

 

"You can't leave us here!" Bev protested. 

 

"Then come with me, but I'm not gonna let him fucking die again!" Richie cried, and started to pull again, before easing an arm under Eddie's knees and lifting him up. 

 

It was exhausting work. Eddie was small, but anyone would have been too heavy to carry through all of those tunnels. Richie fell a few times, scrambling to keep Eddie out of the greywater and flinching every time the brunet mewled in pain, his face pale and his forehead soaked with perspiration. 

 

"We're almost there," he kept promising, although in reality, he had no clue where they were. "Just hold on, Eddie, we're almost there." 

 

"Richie, you have to go back," Eddie wheezed faintly after a long period of time— Richie thought they might be getting close. He had dragged Eddie up and out of the trap door, all that was left was climbing out of the well with him and getting him to a hospital. 

 

"Tough fuckin' shit, Eds!" Richie laughed hysterically, turning the corner and catching glimpse of the stairs that led up to the hole in the well. "They can all kick the fuckin' can— we're gonna run away, you and me." 

 

"That's unrealistic," Eddie rasped, and coughed— Richie's heart jolted at the sound. He started to climb the stairs, legs and arms screaming at him to stop and take a rest. But he pressed on. 

 

"I don't care. I'll take you home, and I'll take such good care of you—" 

 

"Can we take another shower?" Eddie teases, and Richie found it in him to laugh for real. 

 

"So many, Eds. You have no idea." 

 

They remained silent for a few more minutes, and Richie climbed into the crawl space, easing Eddie onto his back. The brunet cling to his neck, and Richie took a breather. He reached out into the well and found a grip, slipping out and beginning to climb. For a single terrifying moment, he was terrified his arms would give out. Then he found the next foothold, and began shoving himself upwards. 

 

"I'm going to die," Eddie coughed as they neared the top. Richie threw an arm over the edge of the well and started to heave them both over. "Richie, I'm going to—" 

 

"No you aren't," Richie insisted, falling over the side and pulling Eddie onto the surface of the Earth. "Come on, Eds. You're so brave. You're so strong. You're gonna make it." He forced himself up and picked the man up again, making his way up the stairs. 

 

Part of him expected to hit some sort of obstacle on the way out of the house, but nothing came. He stumbled out into the sunlight and opened the door of Eddie's rental, easing him into the middle row and laying him across the seats. He buckled a few of the seatbelts over his body as best he could and tried not to think about the way his eyes were glassy and his face was white as a sheet. 

 

Richie found the keys still in the ignition. He started the van and peeled away from the house, asking his phone's GPS to direct him to the nearest hospital. 

 

"We're gonna be fine, Eds," he said aloud once they had pulled onto the highway. There was no traffic in the middle of the day. "You're gonna be okay." 

 

The ride was quiet— occasionally, Richie would assure Eddie it was all okay— they were going to go to Richie's house in L.A. because it was too big for one person anyway. They'd take as many showers as they wanted— and Richie wouldn't have to pretend he wasn't peeking this time. 

 

"And I love you, Eddie," he said, breath hitching. "I love you so much." 

 

Silence met his words, and after a thirty minute ride, he finally pulled into the hospital. He stopped right outside the doors and got out without even shutting the car off. He ran around and unbuckled all of Eddie's seatbelts, picking him up and stumbling through the automatic doors. 

 

"Help!" He shouted. "Somebody help! He got into— It was an accident, and he's— Help him!" 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

There was nothing that could quell the absolute devastation when the body was pried from his grasp and declared dead on arrival. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

6.   Sleeping World 

 

In a glorious moment

You show me beautiful lights

And I want to know all the colours

Emotion in your eyes

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

 

There was no resistance this time. 

 

It wasn't sure whether that was to be considered a triumph or concerning— then again, it was always good to be cautious. 

 

It would dangle victory in his face this time. So closely that he could taste it. Taunting, jeering, laughing every time It held the end just out of reach. 

 

His life force was ebbing away. 

 

It was almost over. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When Richie woke up, he was fairly certain of what he wanted this time around. He pulled his hoodie over his head and put on a pair of pajama pants, trudging down the stairs and into the side room that had the bar. He grabbed a bottle of whisky, cast a rugged glance at the bellhop, who looked politely away, and trudged out the front door. 

 

It was hot out, much like a normal summer should be. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Richie opened the bottle and took a swig, head tilting backwards. A fiery stream of liquid seared his throat, and he stifled a cough, closing the bottle and beginning to make his way down the street. He lifted his hand to push his glasses up on his nose and found them absent from his face, but he couldn't find it in him to care. So he took another mouthful of alcohol and kept walking. 

 

One turned into two, and two turned in to ten, and Richie could feel a slight buzz coming on nearing the end of his trek to the library. Nobody was out and about, but Richie had the lingering thought that he wouldn't really give much of a fuck if anyone saw him swaying down the street with whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, which he had lit not long after leaving the townhouse. 

 

Took took a final drag as he approached the library, steadying himself and stomping it out on the sidewalk before he walked in. It was mostly silent. Richie took another sip and glanced around. His eyes stung, and he had a headache. Mike was nowhere to be seen. 

 

He made his way into the gift shop and looked around. The same clerk stood behind the counter, watching him with curious eyes that occasionally flitted down to the bottle in his hand but never clouded with judgement. Selfishly, Richie thought the man was a little bit cute. He had to be a little bit older— although he didn't seem as old as he had been last time. His hair was brown, but more of an auburn color where it caught the light. He had blue-grey eyes, sharp and yet simultaneously comforting. 

 

"Hi," Richie greeted sourly.

 

"Hi," the employee returned. "Can I help you find something?" 

 

"No," Richie scoffed, casting another look around the store. An awkward silence dragged out in which Richie looked at the things that had become very familiar to him very quickly. Then he looked back and the man behind the desk and walked over. "Do you like it here?" He asked, voice low. "In Derry, I mean." His eyes flitted down to the name tag on his shirt— Sam. 

 

The semi-redhead grinned cheekily and gestured to one of the bumper stickers on display. "I love Derry," he quoted, though his voice was strained, and his smile seemed forced. 

 

"How much do they pay you to say that?" He asked very seriously, and Sam leaned in, glancing around in mock-secrecy. 

 

"Not enough," he whispered. 

 

Richie smiled a little bit, straightened up, and looked down at the bottle in his hands. It was significantly lighter than it had been when he left the townhouse. "I'm sorry," he heard himself say, and shook his head, furrowing his brow. "You must think I'm some kind of nut job. This isn't a typical thing to see in a library." 

 

"Well, I work the late shift at the new cinema downtown for my second job, so you'd be surprised at what I'm used to seeing." He shrugged, grinning. Richie's heart skipped a beat, and he forced himself to take a step back, glancing at the door to the library when the bell jingled. Eddie had walked in. 

 

"Are you going to the festival?" Sam asked, jolting Richie back to reality. 

 

"Huh?" Richie asked, dragging his gaze away from Eddie. He felt sluggish. Sam was still smiling. "Sorry, I didn't hear you." 

 

"How buzzed are you?" Sam laughed, and it was a lovely sound. "I asked if you were going to the festival. Tonight is the last night that it'll be in town." 

 

"Oh," Richie said stupidly. He looked back over at Eddie, who was waiting at the counter, and a warm feeling began to deep into his heart when he saw the brunet begin sifting through his fanny pack and some of the contents spilled out. He bit his lip to conceal his smile, tightening his grip on his bottle, and wondered what on God's Earth he was still doing over here. He turned back to Sam and shrugged. "Probably not," he admitted. "I'm in town to meet up with some old friends. We grew up here. It's kind of a reunion thing." 

 

"Well, you should still come! Tell them to tag along." Sam reached out and patted Richie's shoulder, fingers lingering, and Richie looked down at it, cheeks heating up. He didn't like how cold Sam's hands felt against his skin. "Maybe I'll see you there," Sam added. Richie looked back up and met his eyes, which were a bit chillier than before. He still hadn't let go. 

 

"Yeah," Richie trailed off, pulling away and walking backwards towards the exit to the gift shop. "Maybe." He paused, shuffling his feet awkwardly, and looked down at his bottle of whisky, suddenly sobering up and unappetized by the prospect of drinking himself into oblivion. "See you around," he lied, shoving the whiskey into the nearest trash can and scratching the back of his head as he made his way across the library. 

 

Eddie looked up almost as soon as he started walking, and his expression seemed to light up. Richie shoved his hands into his pockets, trying not to let his face get too warm when the brunet hurried over, meeting him halfway. 

 

"Richie," Eddie said breathlessly, gaze examining him from head to toe. "What the hell are you wearing?" 

 

"If I'm going to die fighting a demonic clown bitch I'm going to be comfortable while doing it," he answered nonchalantly. Eddie's eyebrows shot up on his forehead, and for a moment, he was silent. Then he laughed. 

 

The bitterness and reluctance to get close again began to melt away. 

 

I love you, too. I think I always did. 

 

"I missed your laugh," Richie mumbled, and he knew he was a little bit drunk. I hate being a lightweight. But Eddie just giggled again, tilting his head. 

 

"What have you been drinking?" He asked, brow furrowing. 

 

"Whiskey," Richie grunted. "I'm so tired." 

 

"I'll bet you are. You might want to sleep that off," Eddie snickered, tapping his chest. "I can give you a ride back to the townhouse." 

 

"But what about lunch?" Richie yawned. 

 

"Mike's in a rush, but I'll deal with him." Eddie shrugged. 

 

"Why are you being so nice to me?" Richie wrinkled his nose, squinting at Eddie with suspicious eyes. "You were never nice to me." 

 

"I'm not being nice!" Eddie protested, cheeks becoming pink. "I just—" He broke off, averting his eyes. "I missed you," he mumbled under his breath. 

 

"You two losers ready to go?" Mike asked as he approached. Richie looked down at himself— disheveled, in an old hoodie and pajama pants, curls even wilder than usual, and still slightly drunk. He shrugged with a soft chuckle. 

 

"Guess I'll sleep in the car." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"Richie," a distant voice murmured, and a hand was shaking his shoulder. Richie grumbled, turning his head away and squeezing his eyes shut. "Richie," the voice repeated, more insistently this time. "You have to wake up. We're at the restaurant." He cracked one eye open to see Eddie, face much closer than he had expected it to be. He jumped, breath hitching, and Eddie jerked back, eyes widening. His hands were pressed against Richie's thighs as he leaned over him and shook him awake. 

 

Richie blinked groggily, sleep still blurring his vision. He looked down, lips parting slightly at the sensation of warmth high up on his legs, then dragged his gaze up to Eddie's face once more. 

 

"What?" He rasped, surprises by the roughness of his voice. 

 

"We're here," Eddie said again, and his lips quirked up into a soft smile. Richie stilled again, slightly dumbfounded. 

 

Eddie was so close. It was strangely early for him to be this close— Richie hadn't made any moves yet. 

 

"You're cute when you sleep," Eddie murmured, and then he disappeared out of the car, leaving a furiously blushing Richie in the back seat behind him. 

 

Okay, so maybe I'm not the one making the moves this time. 

 

He got out of the car, still sluggish with the slight buzz that had yet to cease during their short drive, though he could feel the dull beginnings of his impending hangover. 

 

"Steady, there," Eddie warned, reaching out when Richie stumbled out the door. Warm hands caught his forearms, sliding up along his skin and resting at his shoulders until he straightened himself up. Richie swallowed thickly, and Eddie looked up at him through his lashes, that soft, sweet smile stretching his lips wider still. 

 

"Holy shit," Richie said, words slurring ever-so-slightly. Eddie giggled, and the sound struck Richie's heart like a chord, sending tremors throughout the rest of his body. He shivered. Eddie's hands trailed back downwards, and Richie felt his cheeks heat up as fingertips traced along the small of his back and an arm wrapped around his waist to steady him. 

 

"You need help, Eddie?" Mike's voice drifted into Richie's ears but he was hardly aware of anything other than the intoxicating feeling of Eddie's body pressed against his. He not-so-subtly turned his head and pressed his face into Eddie's hair, inhaling deeply through his nose. Eddie smelled like vanilla— but just barely. It wasn't sickeningly sweet. Just a soft undertone. 

 

"I've got him," he told Mike, then said, "Stop smelling me." He jut his hip out and bumped against Richie, who stumbled. Eddie tightened his grip and held him up a little straighter— though Richie's knees wobbled more so because of the intensity of Eddie's presence up in his personal space than the lingering alcohol in his system. The man had never been this forward— Richie wondered if it was Eddie's way of making up for the fact that the Trashmouth himself was holding back. 

 

"You smell like vanilla," Richie said, lips pressed against his scalp. "I love it." 

 

"Beep-beep," Eddie said, and Richie felt a flash of indignation. 

 

Beep-beep yourself, asshole. You're the one that's all over me, for once. 

 

He held his tongue and didn't dare say it out loud as they made their trek through the parking lot. Richie leaped heavilg on Eddie— more heavily than he truly had to— but Eddie just pulled him tighter against his side, cheek pressed to his shoulder and rubbing every once in a while. 

 

"Sit with me," Richie said as they entered the restaurant. "At the table." 

 

"Maybe," Eddie conceded, and Richie could feel the smirk though he didn't look quick enough to see it before the brunet turned his head away. Mike called in their reservation and they were led to their table by the same waitress as the first time, Megan, who once again had her eyes on Richie. But he was lost in his own world. Eddie pulled out a seat for him and Richie plopped down into it, watching with poorly-masked anticipation as Eddie sat in the seat next to him and scooted closer. 

 

"I missed you," Richie told him after Mike went back out to wait for the others. "I wish we hadn't waited so long— and for such sucky circumstances— to meet up again." 

 

"Me too, Rich," Eddie whispered, even though there was nobody else in the room. "God, I missed you. Hearing your voice on the radio every day as you got older— and I got older— and forgetting everything but your face? It sucked. All I wanted was to remember you. All I wanted was to hitch a flight to L.A., find you, and ask you, 'What the hell happened to us, Richie? I thought we were going to be friends forever. What the hell happened?'" He shook his head, then let it rest on Richie's shoulder, sighing. 

 

"Why didn't you?" Richie asked, sobering up for a moment. Eddie laughed, but there was no humor in his voice. 

 

"Because I met my wife," he replied. "I got married. I started a business. I couldn't just drop all of that." 

 

"And what about now?" Richie asked, letting his head lean against the top of Eddie's. "Could you drop it all now?" 

 

"With you, Anything is possible," Eddie teased, nudging him with his elbow. "No," he said instead. "It's not. But I would do it anyway if Myra wouldn't call the cops on me. I'm pretty sure she's got them on speed dial." 

 

"What would you have said if you had come to see me?" Richie mumbled, and his eyelids were dropping again— he was still exhausted. Eddie's arm looked around his own and he shifted, getting more comfortable. His hair tickled the side of Richie's neck, but he didn't mind. He just settled in closer. 

 

"I would have looked at you," Eddie began, voice still so quiet despite the emptiness of the room. "I would have told you I missed you. You would have cracked some stupid joke, and I would have told you to shut up." Richie laughed at that. Eddie smiled, shaking his head against Richie's shoulder, then continued. "Then I would have told you that you should never have left me." He sighed. "I forgive you. But I was heartbroken." 

 

"I left you?" Richie asked groggily, yawning. "When?" 

 

"When you turned eighteen. You were up and out of here. Couldn't wait a few months for me to go with you." Eddie squeezed his arm, and Richie frowned deeply, wracking his brain. 

 

Do you love me? 

 

The memory came back, and he suddenly felt such disappointment in himself. He pulled away from Eddie, putting a hand over his mouth. 

 

"Oh my God," he whispered. 

 

"Don't," Eddie warned, touching his shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up over it. Because I get it. I really do." 

 

"But we promised each other we would wait," Richie groaned, putting his head in his hands. "At the dugout." 

 

"But Richie, I couldn't have asked you to spend another five months getting your ass kicked every time you walked through the doors of your house," Eddie insisted. "I was upset back then— but we were still kids, Rich! I grew up, and I understand now. It wasn't your fault." 

 

"Okay," Richie grumbled, but he didn't look up. "Alright." 

 

"Okay?" Eddie asked, and Richie thought he might reach out again, but he didn't. "Let me finish, anyway." Richie quieted down and sat up, giving his full attention. "After I told you you never should have left, which is a lie, I would have asked you if you wanted to go catch up somewhere," Eddie said. 

 

"What, like a date?" Richie couldn't help but quip. 

 

"Yeah, you ass, like a date," Eddie snarked, and that shut him up. "We're adults here. If you remember what happened in the dugout then I think it's safe to assume you remember how frustrating it was when all we could do was dance around each other— it may not be the best time or the best circumstances, but I'm done with all of that shit. I don't care anymore. And maybe you're scared— scared to tell the others, scared to admit to yourself that whatever we had was real— but damnit, Richie, we were fucking happy." Eddie took a breath, and Richie felt a few tears well up in his eyes. 

 

"Yeah," he croaked, willing them away. "Yeah, we were happy." 

 

"So I don't see why we shouldn't use this time to be happy again," Eddie said carefully, and a hand touched Richie's. He jumped, then relaxed, turning his palm upwards and allowing Eddie to lace their fingers together. "Do you?" The brunet asked, and when Richie finally met his eyes, they were wide and desperate and questioning. His heart skipped a beat, and he took a deep breath. 

 

"I don't see why not," he replied, voice cracking. Then, on a more Richie-note, he allowed a snarky remark to slip— "Does this mean that we can have sex?" 

 

"Beep-beep, asshole." Eddie let go of his hand and smacked his shoulder, hard. "Don't push your luck. I'm still married." 

 

"How long is that going to last once this is over?" He tried not to sound too hopeful. Eddie looked at him with a sad smile, and opened his mouth to speak, but a new voice joined the conversation. 

 

"Hey, Losers!" 

 

They both looked up. Beverly was standing in the doorway— second to arrive, as usual. She smiled, eyed where Eddie's hand was brushing Richie's knee, and snickered. 

 

"I see you two are having a bit of a moment. Mind if I join in?" 

 

"Not at all," Richie replied, gesturing to the snarky empty table. "Be my guest." 

 

"Great," She said, and sat across from him, still watching them with squinted eyes. "So... You two are being weird." 

 

"You just got here, how do you know we're not acting totally normal?" Eddie asked, rolling his eyes and sitting up in his chair. Beverly snorted. 

 

"Because Richie is star-struck and you're smug, so something must be going on, or else I'm remembering something wrong, because I'm pretty sure it used to be the opposite."

 

"Fuck you," Richie grumbled, but he couldn't hide his smile. 

 

"Alright," Bev shrugged. "Whatever. You know I'll break you eventually." 

 

"I don't think you should be breaking anybody," Ben's voice joined in. Richie glanced over at him, standing there in the same clothes, with the same awkward stance as always. 

 

He took a deep breath, settled back in his seat, and brushed his fingertips against the hand that still rested on his knee. 

 

Here we go again. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

This time, Richie forgot to look out for the fortune cookies. 

 

They hadn't been a problem since the first time. They came out in a bowl and were placed into the middle of the table. Richie eyed them, heart skipping a beat, and snagged Eddie's hand before it could lift towards the treats. 

 

"Don't," he whispered. Eddie looked at him strangely. Richie felt himself go pale. "Don't take any of those cookies. I have a bad feeling." It wasn't a total lie— he did have a bad feeling. He didn't have to tell him why. Eddie relented, settling back in his seat, but he was visibly more anxious than before— his nervous energy had only grown over the course of Mike's explanation. Richie had been afraid that he was going to break all of the bones in his fingers when they had been alerted of Stanley's death. 

 

The other Losers had already picked up their cookies. Richie watched, and this time he was the one clutching Eddie's hand tighter than he probably should. As soon as they started to bubble and crack on their own, Richie was out of his chair, dragging Eddie towards the furthest corner from the table. 

 

"What the fuck is going on?" Eddie said, voice wavering. "Richie, what's—" 

 

"Holy shit!" Bev shouted, throwing her cookie across the table just as it started to ooze blood. Mike's went sailing across the room next, and something rattled inside— Richie didn't want to know what it was. Bill pushed his plate away just as a mutated fly the size of his fist burst from the pastry and skittered across the table. 

 

"It's not real!" Mike said forcefully. "It's not real! Just sit back down— sit down and act normal!" Richie's iron grip on Eddie's hand was unrelenting, and he was almost prepared to refuse to move— but Eddie started tugging on him, having him a warning glance, and Richie stumbled over, head starting to throb. 

 

"I want to go home," he mumbled, hardly aware of his own voice leaving his mouth. He sat down with a soft thump, staring at the bowl of cookie,s which were rattling, clicking, writhing amongst themselves. 

 

"We'll get the bill," Mike said calmly, "and then we'll leave. And I'll tell you what we're doing next." 

 

"No more today," Richie said, gaze snapping over to his friend. "Please, Mikey. No more today. I'm so tired." 

 

"We have to get this done now," he insisted, taking the bill as it was placed on the table. Everyone started to take out their wallets, tossing cash over the nasty cookies that continued to shake and convulse. 

 

"But we all got here as fast as we could," Eddie objected. "I've been driving for hours. Richie took a plane from L.A., and in case you couldn't tell, he's still a little buzzed. Bev and Ben had flights, too. We're all exhausted." 

 

"But—" Mike started to protest, and Eddie opened his mouth to interrupt, but Richie nudged him and shook his throbbing head with a wince. "We have to finish this," Mike whispered. "It's almost over. I just need you all to remember." 

 

"And how are we supposed to do that?" Ben asked, starting to get up and tuck his wallet into his back pocket. 

 

"You take a walk," Mike said, and the desperate hope in his voice as he looked around at them all while they stood, uncomfortable expressions in their eyes. "On your own. Find somewhere that means something to you for a personal reason. Try to remember everything." 

 

"I don't want to remember," Bev whispered, and they all fell silent, looking at her as she lowered her head. Richie swallowed thickly and turned away, letting go of Eddie's hand and curling his arms around himself. 

 

Sometimes, we just don't have a choice. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"Are you going to be okay?" Eddie asked as the stepped outside. He maintained a bit of distance. Nobody was looking at them, but Richie almost wanted to keep this strange connection to themselves, anyway. He shrugged helplessly, shuffling his feet and kicking at a pebble on the sidewalk. 

 

"I guess so," he muttered under his breath. Eddie's brow furrowed, and he took a hesitant step forward. A car door shut in the distance. Soft voices of their friends drifted towards them though the wind. Eddie's hand twitched— to touch his cheek, or grab his hand, Richie wasn't sure— then stilled at his side once more. 

 

"Where will you go?" The brunet asked next, head tilting. Richie shrugged again. He couldn't think of many places he hadn't already gone. The Kissing Bridge was a big 'No'— he wouldn't be venturing there again any time soon. Wracking his brain, he wasn't sure there was a place he would be willing to visit again. 

 

"Around," he finally replied. "I don't know. There's not a lot that I really want to remember." 

 

"Me neither," Eddie admitted. "I was thinking that I might go home— but now I'm not sure. I think Ben is going to the library. Not sure where Bill and Bev are headed. But I guess that's okay, right?" He laughed a little. "This is supposed to be personal, anyway." 

 

"Yeah," Richie agreed, rubbing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "You're right." 

 

"Richie, you look like shit," the man said flatly. "Maybe you should just ignore what Mike said and go get some rest." 

 

"God, Eds, you have no idea how badly I'd love to take you to bed with me," Richie smirked, a flare of his childhood mischief prickling in his heart. Eddie's cheeks darkened with a slight red color, and his expression soured. 

 

"I told you not to push your luck, asshole," Eddie snapped, but he was smiling when he gave Richie's shoulder a shove, starting to back away towards the street. "But maybe later. I've gotta go before everyone thinks something fishy is going on here." 

 

"How much later is later?" Richie pressed, and he attempted to quell the nervous energy that was causing his stomach to churn, but to no avail. 

 

"Later enough," Eddie called back, grinning. "But don't get your hopes up." Then he turned with a small wave and started walking off down the sidewalk. Richie huffed, cheeks warm and heart feeling pleasantly heavy. 

 

It's kind of too late for that.

 

Richie wandered around aimlessly for a good chunk of time before he found himself approaching Neibolt street. He stared at the broken and battered street sign and shook his head, hands clenched where they sat in his pockets. 

 

This was the last place he wanted to be. But when he approached that damned house and his vision started to haze, he knew there was no turning back. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Derry, Summer of 1989

 

 

No fucking way was there such thing as monsters under the bed, was what Richie was thinking as Bill pedaled up to the nasty old house on Neibolt street. The number two in the twenty-nine that hung from the front porch was crooked. Nothing about the house screamed 'Come inside!' But Richie had a feeling they would be entering anyway. 

 

"Are you sure about this, Big Bill?" Richie asked as Silver came to a wobbling stop and they both hopped off onto the smoldering pavement. "I mean, you know how Eds can be— his mom gets in his head. He probably just saw another old hobo and lost his shit." 

 

"I-I don't th-th-think so," Bill disagreed. "You suh-suh-saw the picture, Richie." 

 

Expression contorting into one of distaste, Richie didn't reply. He didn't want to believe that he had seen Georgie's old picture move— 

 

But it had, hadn't it? God help him, it had. 

 

So Richie pulled his Hawaiian shirt tighter over his shoulders and trudged after Bill, his beat-up old sneakers dragging reluctantly agains the ground as it turned from tar to dirt. Bill paused in front of the porch, glancing around for a gap in the skirt. An unsettling feeling began to grow the closer they got, and Richie felt his skin begin to crawl. 

 

"He s-s-said it was under the p-porch, right?" Bill asked, walking over and lifting the lattice-skirt a bit to peer underneath. Richie got closer, and the smell that wafted into his nostrils was absolutely putrid. He flinched away, pinching his nose and coughing. 

 

"Fucking disgusting, Jesus," he wheezed. "Yeah, he said it was under the porch, and it fuckin' smells like sick hobos live here, too. So I'm asking you again, Bill," Richie adjusted his glasses, glancing over his shoulder at the road, and Silver, the trusty bike that lay just on the other side of the old, broken down fence. "Are you sure about this?" 

 

Because we could hop back on that bike right now. We could go to the Barrens— we could get Eddie on the way, and we could tell him we checked, even though we didn't. Tell him we checked, and it was just some nasty old hobos, and don't worry Eds, because I won't let any of them touch you even if we hang out at the ballfield on Neibolt. I won't let them touch you even if we pass the house on our way to the train tracks some time.

 

It's just a hobo. It's just a hobo and It rides the rods. That's what It does. Ain't got no money, ain't got no home, but It's got it a bottle and a dollar and a place to sleep. It'll pick apples this week and potatoes the week after that and when frost locks up the ground like money inside a bank vault, why, It'll hop a GS&WM box that smells of sugar-beets and It'll sit in the corner and pull some hay over it if there is some and It'll drink it a little drink and chew it a little chew and sooner or later It'll get it to Portland or Beantown, and if It don't get busted by a railroad security dick It'll hop one of those 'Bama Star boxes and head down south and when It gets there It'll pick lemons or limes or oranges. And if It gets vagged It'll build roads for tourists to ride on. Hell, It's done it before, ain't It? It's just a lonesome old hobo, ain't got no money, ain't got no home, but It's got it one thing; It's got it a disease that's eating it up. It's skin's cracking open, It's teeth are falling out, and you know what? It can feel itself turning bad like an apple that's going soft, It can feel it happening, eating from the inside to the out, eating, eating, eating it.

 

The thought was almost invasive, and Richie almost choked on his own tongue. I didn't think that... did I? That wasn't something he would think. And It... It felt like a proper noun, a being, a name. What was It? Richie wasn't sure he wanted to know. 

 

"I'm s-sure," Bill replied, shaking Richie out of his stupor. "Let's g-g-go." Dread beginning to weigh him down, Richie followed Bill reluctantly as he squatted down and got on his hands and knees, crawling underneath the porch. Suddenly, the stench surrounded him. 

 

"God, I wish I hadn't worn my new shirt," Richie hissed as his bare hand squished down into something he hoped was mud. "It's going to smell like shit." Bill didn't answer, but when Richie got all the way inside the wooden encasing, and the skit fluttered back down, they were plunged into near-pitch darkness. He heard Bill shuffle around, struggling with something for a moment, and an uttered curse, then a flashlight flickered on. "Jesus, something hit that fucker hard." 

 

The window was broken in from the inside— something that only seemed to further confirm Eddie's story— and the inside of the basement seemed even darker than the underside of the porch. Richie blinked, trying to let his eyes adjust, and realized that it was starting to get extremely hot. But as he got closer to Bill and approached the window, a chill hit his face. The basement was freezing. Such a contrast in temperatures between two tiny spaces made little logical sense, and Richie frowned, shying away from the window. 

 

He heard a soft click beside him, and glanced at Bill. He was cocking a pistol, loading bullets into the chamber with a determined fervor that scared Richie half to death. 

 

"Christ, Big Bill!" He cried, scrambling back, and Bill swung his arms around to support himself against the ground behind him. "Watch where you point that fucker!" Bill slid his legs through the window and panic exploded in Richie's heart. "Christ, Bill, you don't mean to go in there, do you? There's nothing here!" 

 

"W-W-We don't know that yuh-yet," Bill pointed out, and then he disappeared into the frigid blackness, and there was the sound of stones clattering across a concrete floor. His voice floated up from the dark, saying, "Y-You can stay up th-th-there if you wuh-want. Keep watch." 

 

"No way, Big Bill," Richie said, and he could almost hear his pounding heartbeat in his voice, shaking, trembling violently. "I ain't going it alone. I'm sticking with you." Slowly, regretfully, he pushed himself through the broken window. His feet hit something unstable, and a shriek flooded from his mouth as loose bits of coal slid from under him and he tumbled down into the cold, dank basement of the Neibolt house. 

 

"Are y-you okay?" Bill asked, flashlight shining on Richie as he struggled to his feet. Richie wiped his face, sweat dripping from his forehead despite how much he was shivering. 

 

"Yeah," Richie said, voice cracking— and of course, it was a lie. His heart was in his throat and a hot pressure was building up behind his eyes. I will not cry. He stood up and shuffled towards the source of the light, sticking close to Bill's side just as he had promised he would. 

 

A well stood in the corner of the basement. It was broken and battered, and it was the source of the frigid cold. Richie edged closer, peering over the edge, and Bill shined the flashlight down into the abyss. There was a seemingly endless drop that caused Richie's head to spin and his vision to swim. 

 

There was a creak somewhere behind them, and then a low, snarling growl. Richie's heart leaped into his throat and he froze where he stood at the sound of the basement door slamming open. 

 

"R-R-R-Richie!" Bill shouted, and the flashlight struck Richie's shoulder as the other boy whirled around, staring. Richie jumped, forcing himself to turn as well. "Holy sh-shit!" Bill yelled, shining his light on the hulking figure in the doorway. It stood almost too tall to come through— covered in matted, crusted brown fur, and it's yellow slitted eyes gleamed in the light of Bill's flashlight. 

 

Then it started to move. 

 

"Run!" Bill screamed, turning and shoving Richie aside. Richie stumbled, tripped over his own feet and fell to his knees, terror rooting him to the spot. "Richie, r-r-run! The c-coal! Climb up t-t-to the window!" Richie forced himself to go, crawling over to the pile of coal that he had slid down only minutes earlier and starting to clamber his way up. It felt like he was too far from the dim light of the underside of the porch— the coal slipped and tumbled down beneath his hands. He couldn't make it, he couldn't, It was going to get him— 

 

A gunshot rang out behind him and Richie screamed involuntarily, muscles burning with the effort as he finally dragged himself up to the broken window. His palms stung as they slid and cut themselves on the broken glass, but he didn't care, he just needed to get out. 

 

"YOU KILLED MY BROTHER, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" He heard Bill screech, and in the back of his md he almost heard It reply. 

 

Yes, and I'm going to kill you, now, too. 

 

"It's g-got me, Richie!" Bill cried just as Richie clambered all the way through the window, and he whirled around. Bill was spread-eagle on the coal, and he was sliding back, Something was dragging him backwards oh God is that a paw on his ankle— 

 

Richie surged forward and seized Bill by the forearms, hauling him upwards and pulling with all of his strength— for what wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last he cursed his parents for their neglect— but Bill was still slipping, and the snarling screeching howl drifted out of the window. 

 

"Let dis'yere boy go, I tell ya!" Richie burst out in his Irish accent— it was as if Mr. Nell had grabbed him with his mind, like they had momentarily switched consciousnesses, and Richie continued, pure terror driving him forward. "I swear to Jaysus! You let dis'yere boy go, now!" He gave one more mighty heave, and Bill flew towards him, elbow driving into Richie's stomach as he fell over him and scrambled for the exit. Richie briefly saw the face of the Teenage Werewolf swimming out of the darkness, then there were paws pulling it out of the window, and he turned and crawled for the exit. 

 

Bill got out first, and Richie swore he could feel the hot breath against his heels as he dragged himself out after. He got to his feet and made a break for Silver, reaching the trusty old bike just as Bill swung his leg over the seat that was too tall for him. 

 

"Go, Big Bill, go!" Richie begged, jumping onto the back of the bike and giving Bill a slight push— he started to pedal, but it was slow, too slow. "Go!" He cried, and Jesus it feels like It's RIGHT NEXT TO ME—

 

Bill finally got Silver going, though she wobbled violently, and Richie choked on his own tongue as the gust of wind behind a paw slashing down mere centimeters from where he had been seconds earlier hit the back of his neck. They gained a bit of speed, and Richie thought, We're doing it, we're going to get away! Then the paw came swinging down again, and those claws snagged the back of his shirts, and Richie barely got his arms around Bill's torso before the Werewolf was dragging him backwards. The collar of his shirt pressed against his windpipe, cutting off his breath, and Richie gagged, eyes bulging, tears cutting through the black soot coating his freckled cheeks. Bill began to tilt back as well, but he pedaled on, and there was a sharp ripping sound that almost, funnily, enough, resembled that of a fart— and Richie's Hawaiian shirt tore down the back. The pressure on his neck was relieved, and Richie lifted one hand to clutch at his throat, coughing. He just barely turned his head to look back when a sharp pain struck the top of his head. 

 

Richie's eyes began to roll up and back— a warm substance began to trickle down into his right eye— and then everything went black. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie's eyes flew open and a gasp tore itself out of his throat. Coughs wracked his body violently, and he stumbled back from the house, hands flying up to clutch at his head. He almost expected them to come back bloody, but they were just shaking as hard as the rest of him, slick with sweat from his hair and forehead. He breathed heavily, staring at the porch with dawning horror. 

 

He had known there had been a werewolf, and an open window— but this was something he had never wished to resurface in his memory. Choking back a sob, Richie hurried his face in his hands and crouched down, rocking back and forth on his heels. 

 

"No, no, no, God, please let it be over this time, no more," he cried, hugging his knees and shaking his head. "No more." 

 

"It's not over yet, Faggot." 

 

Richie threw his head back and looked at Henry with wide, bulging eyes. He started to shake his head more vigorously as the man came closer, knife glittering against the sun. 

 

"No," Richie said, getting unsteadily to his feet. His head still pounded. His vision blurred. He wanted his glasses. He wanted to sleep, but he knew he wouldn't, even if he tried for a thousand years. Henry stalked closer, grinning maniacally, as per usual. 

 

"Yes," the psycho countered, voice trembling, though his was with excitement. "This time— this time, we will let you get away. You'll think you're safe. But next time..." He laughed, and Richie flinched. "You'll remember everything," Henry whispered. "Don't go anywhere on your own next time, Tozier, or you'll remember everything." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie ran away after that. He half-expected Henry to follow, but when he could hardly breathe anymore, and he slowed down to look over his shoulder, he saw nobody. Richie speed-walked the rest of the way to the townhouse and found Bev and Ben in the same spot as usual. They both looked up upon his arrival and Richie bustled past them, face pale. His hands still shook. He got up to his door and saw Eddie at his own room, struggling, soaked once more, and distressed.

 

"Use my room," Richie said as he watched Eddie struggle with his key. The brunet cast a sidelong look at him, and something in those deep brown eyes seemed to soften. 

 

"Thanks, Rich," he mumbled brushing past him and into the safety of Richie's room. He headed straight for the bathroom, and Richie tried not to think about what happened behind closed door as the knob clicked into place and the water started. He ran his fingers through his hair and kicked his suitcase over, opening it and pulling out a pair of jeans and a fresh t-shirt. Deep within the depths of his case sat a folded Hawaiian shirt that he had not owned seconds previously. The same one he had been wearing in the memory, only bigger. Richie stared at it for a moment, not particularly afraid, or confused, simply allowing a dull, faded anger to boil in his stomach. 

 

He changed into the clothes and pulled the shirt on over everything then picked up his toiletry bag and found his glasses. He blinked out his contacts and left them on top of their case— a poor habit he had yet to break— then placed the lenses on his face, breathing a sigh of relief. It was almost scarily relaxing to feel the familiar weight on the bridge of his nose after having gone without it for years. 

 

Richie stood still, unsure what to do with himself. He heard the water in the bathroom, crashing against a solid surface, and for a split second he spiraled back into the much more recent memory of hands slick with droplets of water traveling up his back— brown eyes peeking where they had forbidden Richie's to ever look, which wasn't particularly fair— and the tension. Fucking hell, the tension was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. 

 

Eddie had been waiting for Richie to make the first move. That much was obvious. The accidental brushes of skin against skin, the dark looks up through his lashes, which were stuck together by the water that was flooding over their heads. He couldn't have been more up front unless he verbally begged for it. 

 

But Richie had chickened out. The moment he felt a pair of lips touch his bare back and felt the presence of someone approaching him from behind, crowding him, he had chickened out. 

 

He knew Eddie had been disappointed. He had fucked up. But the brunet never said anything. 

 

As Richie listened to the shower running in the room that branched off of his bedroom, he wondered if they would get that close this time— if Eddie would get that close. After all, Richie was hardly trying this time. Eddie was the one who seemed to be toeing the line between friendship and— 

 

The water turned off. Richie heard the shriek of the shower curtain being pushed along the metal curtain rod. He blinked slowly and realized he had been standing in the same spot staring at the door for almost ten minutes. There was a knock on the door and he shook himself the rest of the way out of his daze, walking over and cracking it open a bit. 

 

"Hey, Rich," Bev said, biting her lip to conceal her grin. "Everyone had had a rough day— and Bill doesn't want to rush this. So we're thinking about going to the festival. You in?" 

 

"Won't Mike flip his shit?" Richie pointed out, leaning against the doorframe. He heard a soft bustling in the bathroom and swallowed thickly. "If we don't hurry, I mean." 

 

"Yeah," Bev snorted. "Well, I like to do this thing... It's called 'what I want.' I already got Ben in on it. Bill is willing. And we're going whether you come or not, so your choices are to sit around and wait for us to come back, or have a good time before we have what might be the worst times of our lives. What'll it be?" She raised her eyebrows. Richie looked back as the bathroom door opened and had to physically lift a hand to cover his mouth before he verbalized some sort of unintended sound. Eddie stood in the doorway with a pair of boxers on that were almost completely covered by how low Richie's hoodie hung on his body. 

 

"Earth to Richie?" Bev asked, knocking on the wood of his door. "Are you there? Who's even in your room, anyway?" 

 

"Nobody!" Richie squeaked, voice cracking as he turned his head so fast that his neck cracked a little bit. "Um, yeah, I'll go. What time are you guys leaving?" 

 

"As soon as you and Eddie are ready," she replied. "I thought I'd see if you'd ask him because he's not answering his door and we think he'll open up to you. Just come down when you're ready to go." She grinned, waved, and danced away towards the stairs. Richie closed the door quietly and let his head fall forward to hit the solid surface. 

 

"What the fuck are you wearing?" He asked, voice strained. 

 

"What?" Eddie retorted. "I sleep in these. Nobody sees me wear them except for my wife. I couldn't get clothes out of my room anyway." 

 

"And apparently me," Richie grumbled, cheeks heating up and he straightened his back and pinched his brow, turning around. 

 

"What was that?" Eddie asked, words dripping with smugness. 

 

"You heard me, you little asshole," Richie snipped, scowling as he avoided looking at the man. "Listen," he sighed. "Bev and the others are going to the fair tonight and no way am I taking you looking like that. What are we gonna do about it?" 

 

"'Taking me'? What, is this a date?" Eddie teased, and Richie made a face at him. "Do you have a pair of sweatpants I could borrow?" He relented, glancing at Richie's suitcase where it lay under a messy heap of clothes. Richie trudged over and pulled a pair out, throwing them at the brunet, who dropped his bag of gross clothes and caught them. 

 

"You're unbelievable," Richie muttered, shaking his head. "I'm waiting downstairs." 

 

"You like it when I wear your clothes," Eddie called after him, and Richie closed the door behind himself, taking a deep breath once he was out in the hall and pressing his hands to his cheeks to cool them down. 

 

"He's coming!" Richie shouted down to the others as he thundered down the stairs. 

 

"Great!" Bev cheered upon his arrival. "We'll wait for him and then when he's ready we'll go." 

 

"I volunteer Eddie's rental as transportation," Richie said automatically. "It's the only car that's got enough space for all of us." 

 

"Sounds good," Ben said, and Richie hardly spared a look over his shoulder when he heard footsteps descending the stairs. 

 

"Eddie, you look so cozy!" Bev laughed, and although she was acting so cheerful, Richie thought he could detect a glimmer of force in her voice. She was trying to make everything okay. 

 

"I still don't think this is a good idea," Mike said. 

 

"Oh, shut up, Mike, we're going to have a good time before the world ends," Bev dismissed him. "Eddie, where are your keys?" 

 

"Here," Eddie called, and there was a soft jingle as they sailed through the air into her open hand, which caught them. 

 

"Thanks," She said in a sing-song voice. Turning to the rest of the group, she smirked with a devilish look in her eyes. 

 

"Who's ready to tear this joint apart?"

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The fair was huge. More people than Richie had seen in the entire duration of their stay were shuffling about. The sun was low in the sky, almost all the way down, and lights were beginning to flicker on on the outside of the rides and carnival games. 

 

Mike had decided to go back to the library, much to the dismay of Ben, who had been eyeing the way Bev was practically stuck to Bill's side with much hesitation. Richie felt a little bad for the guy. He had a good heart— and though he could detect the bitter sadness in those eyes, Ben did nothing. Bev laughed— the sound echoing back towards them— and Ben's lips quirked upwards with a hint of a smile. 

 

She's happy. So he's happy for her. 

 

And if that wasn't love, Richie didn't know what was. 

 

He walked over to the broad-shouldered Loser and fell into step beside him, watching the head of flaming red hair bob ahead of them, the owner walking with a skip in her step next to a man who had his hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders hunched as he laughed along with her. Ben spared him a glance, and his smile faded. He seemed to know what Richie was thinking before he said anything. 

 

"I'm okay," he said. "Really, I am." 

 

"You don't have to be, though," Richie murmured. He bumped his shoulder against Ben's. They had never been particularly close as kids, but everyone knew that Ben had kept mostly to himself anyway. The way he looked at them all when they talked to him— like he was shocked they would even spare him a glance in his general direction. Richie smiled a little bit and met his eyes deliberately. His friend's expression seemed to tense, then soften, and his grin returned, becoming a bit wider this time. 

 

"I'm not," he finally relented. "But it's okay. Because she is." 

 

"And that's love," Richie replied, shoving his hands into his pockets. 

 

"What do you know about love, Trashmouth?" Ben teased. Richie allowed his gaze to drift over to a lone brunet, walking through the field of cars just a little off to the side, kicking at tufts of grass occasionally and tugging the loose sweatpants higher on his hips every time thy started to slip. His heart fluttered, and his cheeks grew warm. 

 

"Enough, Haystack," he murmured. "Enough to know that I wish I didn't know anything at all." He tore his gaze away in time to see Ben follow his eyes and look at Eddie. Understanding melded into his expression, and his brow furrowed. 

 

"Oh, God," he said, realization seeping into his tone. "Jesus, Rich. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked." Richie shrugged. 

 

"S'alright," he replied. "I thought I'd get over it after twenty-seven years, but here I am, huh?" 

 

"You and me both," Ben murmured. "But I think your situation is different." 

 

"Oh yeah?" Richie asked, looking down at the ground. They were reaching the end of the parking lot. They were almost at the fairgrounds. 

 

"Yeah," Ben confirmed. "You should see the way he looks at you when he thinks nobody is watching. It's like nothing I've ever seen before." 

 

"Hatred like nothing you've ever seen before," Richie grumbled, but he knew it wasn't true. Eddie glanced back, and their eyes locked, and the brunet scoffed, looking away with darkening cheeks. Ben patted Richie on the shoulder. 

 

"Go get him, Trashmouth," he chuckled. "If one of us doesn't face this while we've got the chance, then what's the point? Right?" 

 

"Right," Richie agreed reluctantly. "But Ben," he added, stopping and turning to face him. "I think she loves you, too," he confided. "She just hasn't realized it yet." Ben smiled sadly, and looked at where Bev and Bill were disappearing into the crowd, eyes foggy and distant. 

 

"Sometimes, I think so, too," he murmured. Then he shook his head, turned back and gave Richie a shove. "Go get your man." 

 

"Jesus, Fine," Richie grumbled, putting his hands up and backing away. "He's not 'my man'—" 

 

"Go, Richie!" Ben insisted, taking a threatening step, but his eyes held laughter. 

 

"Yowza! Alright! I'm going!" Richie scurried away, steps faltering as he got close to the man of the hour. Eddie turned around, raising his eyebrows. Richie opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. 

 

It was almost completely dark out now. Eddie stood before him, practically glowing under the soft carnival lights. His hair was messy— he hadn't brushed it yet. But it looked as soft as ever. His smile was brighter than the entire fair. His hands hung loosely at his sides, practically begging to be held. Richie started at him, and for the billionth time, he thought, God, I love you. You're beautiful, and I love you more than anything. 

 

"Earth to Richie," Eddie teased after a moment, getting closer and waving a hand in front of his face. "I know you're still tired— but entertain me for an hour or two, okay?" 

 

"Okay," Richie agreed, and his exhaustion seemed to lessen when Eddie's cool fingers tangled with his own. The brunet got closer still, tilting his head back and looking up at him through lidded eyes. 

 

"Where do you wanna go first?" He asked, breath fanning Richie's face, and the taller man faltered, heart skipping a beat. He leaned down a little bit, lips parting, and Eddie didn't move. 

 

"What are my options?" Richie replied, and electricity shot up and down his spine when he felt the slightest graze of Eddie's mouth as he spoke— an accidental brush, but there, nonetheless. Eddie giggled, lifted his chin and kissed Richie's cheek, then finally pulled away a little bit, still clutching his hands. 

 

"We could play a few games," Eddie suggested. "Or... we could go through the mirror maze. Or we could buy some tickets and go on a few rides." 

 

"No way," Richie disagreed with the last one. "I have a delicate stomach, Eddie, my love— no rides for this old man." 

 

"You aren't old!" Eddie laughed, jerking him forward and pulling him into the thickening crowd. Hundreds of voices and shrieks of children and laughter of parents blended into a lively hubbub that seemed to surround them from all directions. Richie followed him, grinning lazily and allowing himself to be guided through the winding dirt paths of Derry Town Fair. 

 

"How about we get balloon animals from that nice clown man over there?" Eddie joked, raising his voice to be heard above the constant noise. Richie followed his gaze to see the Bozo-looking clown, surrounded by smaller kids, hardly over ten or eleven judging by the looks of them. 

 

"Fuck no," Richie disagreed, stopping and pulling Eddie closer. The brunet crashed against him, and they stumbled back a little, Eddie's arms looping around Richie's waist. The bespectacled man steadied them, then straightened up, tousling that soft brown hair. "Let's do something easy. Like... find a dark corner and make out." 

 

"Fuck off!" Eddie giggled, pushing him away a little. But he returned back to his side, and Richie dared to slide his arm around Eddie's waist as they walked, fingers resting just above the waistband of the borrowed sweatpants. Eddie seemed to lean in to him, and Richie instinctively sought out the glittering band on his right right finger, but saw nothing. He wasn't sure if it was fair for him to feel as elated about that as he did just then, but he pushed the thought away and told himself to enjoy the moment while it lasted. 

 

"Mirror maze it is," Richie decided as they approached. Eddie didn't object, so he led him inside, stepping through the swinging obstacles and sticking close to his partner once they entered the glass and mirror walls of doom. 

 

He saw a few kids flash by on the other side of a see-through wall and sighed, reaching out with one arm to make sure he didn't walk right in to something. There was a dull thunk as Eddie didn't quite squeeze around a corner, and a hiss of pain. Richie stopped, turning and brushing his fingers against Eddie's shoulder. 

 

"Are you okay?" He asked, laughter in his voice. 

 

"I'm fine," Eddie replied. "I just think we're going to have to go single file, or else we'll hit a few more of those at every turn." He turned Richie around and shoved him into the next hallway. Richie felt the man's presence looming behind his back and his breath hitched. His steps faltered. His heart picked up its pace a little. A hand touched his spine and he jerked away, forcing himself forward and blocking out the unrelenting knowledge of something bubbling just under the surface. Something he could not— or, rather, would not— remember. 

 

When he shook his head to clear it, he walked straight into a wall. Pain crackled in his face— particularly his nose— and he stumbled backwards, nearly trampling Eddie in the process. 

 

"Sorry!" He gasped, one hand flying up to touch his face— no blood. He breathed a sigh of relief. 

 

"It's okay," Eddie said. "Are you alright? That sounded like it hurt." 

 

"Fine," Richie said flatly. There was a soft shuffle from around the corner behind them and his heart sped up. "Did you hear that?" 

 

"It's probably just a kid," Eddie soothed, but Richie wasn't convinced. 

 

"There haven't been any kids in here since the first few turns," he insisted. "I find it hard to believe that we wouldn't have crossed paths with at least one given how long we've been in here." The shuffle came again, and Richie reached back, grabbing Eddie's hand. The brunet squeezed it, and they turned and watched the corner warily. 

 

Someone started to come around it, and Richie felt a scream swell up in his chest, and— 

 

"Richie?" 

 

Sam from the library stood in front of them with a confused smile. Richie felt his muscles begin to relax, but his mind continued to race. Sam from the library. Not It. Not Henry. Sam from the library. 

 

"Sam," he breathed, relief beginning to pool in his stomach. 

 

"You... know each other?" Eddie asked, grip on Richie's hand loosening. Richie shrugged nonchalantly. 

 

"Yeah, we met this morning," Sam supplied, smiling. "I work at the library." 

 

"Oh." Eddie's voice was flat. Dull. Richie swallowed thickly and let go of the hand that hung limply in his own. There was an awkward silence, and Richie scratched the back of his neck, then reached around and started to ease Eddie around himself, pushing him in front. 

 

"You're my navigator," he told him, mouth close to his ear, and Eddie seemed to shiver. Richie's lips quirked upwards into a smirk. He straightened up and turned to face Sam again. "We're trying to find our way out if you want to follow," he offered, despite the fact that he would much rather be alone with the man who was currently leaning back into him, head thumping against his shoulder in an attempt to gain his attention. 

 

"Sure!" Sam agreed cheerfully. "Lead the way... I don't believe I caught your name." 

 

"Eddie," came the sour reply. Richie's brow furrowed at his tone, but he ignored it, giving his partner a little shove in the right direction. Eddie stopped leaning on him and put his arms out in front of himself. They began to walk. 

 

"So how long are you guys visiting Derry for?" Sam asked, voice echoing slightly against the tall ceilings. 

 

"Hopefully just another day or two," Richie said. "We all have lives of our own back at home— can't keep the world waiting, you know?" 

 

"Of course," Sam chuckled. "You must have a lovely lady waiting for you, huh?" 

 

Eddie laughed sharply, and Richie prodded him in the back, face burning as they turned another corner. Sam, who had started a few paces behind Richie, seemed to get closer in the perspective of the closest mirror, but Richie just brushed it off. It was a small space anyway. 

 

"No," he replied. "No lovely ladies. I live by myself." 

 

"That must be lonely," Sam pointed out. "Do you have people over often?" 

 

"No," Richie said again, and a bitter taste began to fill his mouth. He hated this topic. He knew it sounded lonely because it was lonely. "I don't really get out much, either." 

 

"Well, what do you do for a living?" Sam asked. He was definitely getting closer. Richie felt the heat of the man's body against his back. He swallowed thickly, reaching forward and brushing the fabric of Eddie's shirt with his fingertips. 

 

"I'm a radio talk show host," he forced, mouth running dry as Eddie paused to choose a direction and Sam almost stumbled into him— a brush of fingers against his waist, a muttered apology— and felt himself growing paler. "I... talk. On the radio." 

 

"I knew your voice sounded familiar!" Sam said, and he snapped his fingers. The sound rang out through the almost silent maze, and Richie stiffened, hands clenching into fists. Eddie cast a glare over his shoulder as his shirt was gathered up into Richie's hand, but upon seeing his expression, the brunet's eyes seemed to darken with concern. 

 

"Yeah," Richie squeaked, giving Eddie another little nudge forward. The brunet started to move again, and Richie huddled close to him, almost stepping on his heels, he was so close. 

 

"The Man of a Thousand Voices!" Sam exclaimed, voice reverberating back against the dense walls and moving through the tunnels faintly. "You're great. I listen to you on my way to work in the morning. You've got some really funny stuff!" Breath against the back of his neck. Eddie stopped again at a fork in the road. Richie came to an abrupt halt, and once again, Sam bumped into him, only this time, he was much closer. Richie's breaths started to come quicker. Fleeting images of a dark tunnel— the phantom feeling of a wooden wall against his cheek, smushing his glasses against his face— hands on his back, shoving him further still against the surface that kept him upright. 

 

"Eddie," Richie said, voice wavering. "We've got to get out." 

 

"You okay, Rich?" Sam asked, and a hand clapped down on Richie's shoulder. He nearly jumped out of his skin, sweat trickling down his temples. Eddie started forward again, and Richie clutched his shirt, he could feel the pounding heart rate against his friend's back. They approached a hall that grew thinner, more claustrophobic, one that you had to squeeze your way through. The lights seemed to blare down, brilliantly white, and Richie drew in a shuddering breath as Eddie slipping through with ease. 

 

He started to move, and he felt Sam move with him, not waiting patiently as Richie had waited for Eddie to move through before venturing himself. The all's grew closer together— tighter space— and Richie blinked sweat from his eyes, though they stung. A looming presence bore down on him from behind and he began to panic, motions becoming erratic. 

 

"Okay— Calm down, Rich!" Eddie's voice run out, slicing through the terrified whirl of thoughts and repressed memories. "It's okay, just relax— Sam, would you give him some fucking space to get through? Jesus!" 

 

"Sorry, I just thought we should stick together!" Sam shouted. Richie finally managed to throw himself out of the gap, and Eddie seemed doubtful. His hands were twitching at his sides, like they had earlier, as though he longed to reach out, and Richie almost wished he would— but then Sam was behind him again, and he just wanted to get out. He felt like he could just about suffocate. 

 

"Are we almost there?" He asked Eddie, despising the desperate tone in his own voice. 

 

"I think so," Eddie replied. His hand brushed Richie's— an invitation. Richie accepted it, curling their fingers together, but did not get much closer than that. 

 

The cool air that hit his face when they came out of the other side of the maze was much appreciated. Richie wiped his forehead on his arm, and it came back slick with sweat. He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. 

 

"Richie?" Eddie asked, approaching tentatively. His brow was furrowed. Sam appeared at Richie's side, and his hand was on Richie's arm, a concerned look in his eyes. 

 

"You okay, man?" Sam asked. Richie watched him glance at Eddie, who's face seemed to scrunch up slightly— cute— and then he looked back again. 

 

"I'm fine," Richie said, stepping away from Sam a little bit and towards Eddie. "I just got a little claustrophobic, I guess." 

 

"I get it," Sam shrugged, though as he stepped closer again, into Richie's personal space, the curly-haired man couldn't help but think, No, you clearly don't. 

 

"Richie," Eddie said again, and he turned to look at the brunet, who looked unimpressed. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" He cast a glance at Sam, then his frown deepened. "Alone?" 

 

"Um, sure," Richie replied. Sam backed off a bit, brow furrowing, but he didn't seem offended. Eddie stepped away, and Richie followed, wringing his hands and looking down with hesitant eyes. "What's up?" 

 

"Who is he?" Eddie demanded in a soft whisper.

 

"I— I don't know!" Richie insisted. "I met him at the library this morning, like he said. I was buzzed, and he was nice about it. He told me to come to the fair and I forgot all about it. I didn't even think about the fact that he would be here!" 

 

"He asked you to come to the fair?" Eddie asked, wrinkling his nose. "While you were drunk, after you just met him?" 

 

"Well... Yeah," Richie confirmed, making a face. He hadn't exactly thought of it that way. 

 

"Let me get this straight," Eddie said, pinching his brow. "He asked you out while you were drunk and after you had just met him?" 

 

"He didn't ask me out," Richie retorted. "He told me he hoped to see me here. There's a difference." 

 

"That's kind of the same thing," Eddie disagreed. 

 

"Well, whatever!" Richie said. "I said no, anyway. I didn't know we were going to come here." 

 

"Well, we're here now, and he's all over you!" Eddie whisper-shouted, face getting red. Richie's mouth fell open as the realization dawned upon him. 

 

"Oh my God, you're jealous." 

 

"No I'm not!" Eddie protested, cheeks growing darker still as he crossed his arms over his chest. Richie laughed, all of the earlier stress of being in the maze beginning to evaporate. 

 

"You absolutely are," he countered. "Well, don't you worry, Eds. I asked you to the fair, remember?" 

 

"Yeah," Eddie grumbled reluctantly, avoiding Richie's eyes. "So?" 

 

"So," Richie answered, raising his eyebrows, "I clearly chose to spend my time with you. Not him." 

 

"Yeah, but—" Eddie started to protest, but Richie put a finger to the man's lips, shushing him. Eddie gave him an outraged look, but fell silent anyways. 

 

"No buts, dear Spaghetti," Richie said. "If it really bothers you this much, I will ask him to leave. I will devote my attention to you, and only you, for the rest of the night." 

 

"The whole night?" Eddie whispered, and it was almost lost under the noises of the fair. Warmth began to pool in Richie's stomach, which was flipping and flopping inside of him. The brunet looked up at him through deep brown eyes— darkened with an emotion Richie was almost too scared to identify. 

 

Lust. 

 

He swallowed thickly, and nodded. "If that's what you want," he replied. "Then yeah." 

 

"Okay," Eddie said. 

 

"Okay." 

 

They stared at each other for a long few moments, nervous excitement causing Richie's heart to flutter. All of his previous anxieties dissipated. He cast a glance at Sam, who was still standing by himself, scrolling through something on his phone. 

 

"Well?" Eddie asked impatiently. "Go tell him!" 

 

"Okay!" Richie said, voice cracking. He shuffled over, shoving his hands in his pockets and whistled casually. "So, Sam," he began awkwardly, biting the inside of his cheek. "Eddie and I... We're exhausted, man. He had a long drive, I had a long flight... We're thinking about kicking it soon. It was nice to see you, but I think we're gonna look for our friends and split." 

 

"Oh," Sam said, shoulders slumping a little, and Richie would have felt bad if it weren't for the minuscule glimmer of anger in the man's dark eyes. "Okay," he relented anyways, though Richie had almost expected him to protest. He felt himself relax. Sam put his phone in his pocket and shrugged. "Fine," he said. "Maybe I'll see you around." 

 

I doubt it, Richie thought as the man disappeared back into the sea of people. He returned to Eddie, who wrapped his arms around Richie's waist and slid his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. Richie jumped, eyes widening, and he tried to calm himself down, though the idea of 'the whole night' was causing him much anxiety. What if he choked like he had in the shower? What if he just couldn't do it? What if he wasn't good enough. Eddie was moving so fast. It was terrifying. 

 

But he simply pushed the thought aside, forced a smile, and wrapped an arm around Eddie's shoulders in return. 

 

"Let's find those Losers and get out of here." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When Bev hauled Bill off for the night— much to the obvious dismay of Ben— Richie thought that meant he was free to tuck in himself. For this reason, when a cold hand slipped into his and fingers tangled with his own, he was a bit confused. However, upon seeing the owner of that hand, he couldn't say he was surprised. 

 

Eddie was looking at him with the same dark look in his eyes as he had on occasion throughout the night, as he had in the shower last time— and Richie shivered. 

 

"You going to bed?" Eddie asked, voice soft. Everyone else had trickled by— Mike had gotten in his car and headed back to the library. Richie swallowed with some difficulty, staring at the man in front of him with huge eyes. 

 

"U-Um," he stuttered, sure that his face was on fire. "Yeah." 

 

"Okay," Eddie said, but he didn't let go of Richie's hand. "Let's go." 

 

Let's?

 

—the whole night—

 

Heart beginning to pick up its pace, Richie allowed Eddie to lead him up the stairs and over to his room. Richie spared Eddie's room a glance, wondering if Bowers was in there, watching, waiting, but then there were hands sliding nimbly into his pockets, searching with little shame for the hunk of metal that would unlock the room. 

 

He found it in Richie's back pocket, and Richie could feel breath on the side of his neck as the arms reached around him to search, then the chilly air as Eddie pulled away and opened the door. Richie stumbled inside after his partner, a shiver running down his spine when he heard the door close and another latch click behind him. Richie turned and eyed the brunet from where he stood just a pace away. 

 

"Richie," Eddie began, and his voice had suddenly lost the mischief it had held before. "I don't want you to think I'm rushing." 

 

"But you are," Richie whispered, wrapping his arms around himself. "You're rushing, and you're scaring me. You aren't like this." 

 

"I'm sorry," Eddie shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. "I just— I've been with people I don't love for so long." His voice wavered, and he sounded almost broken. "I don't love Myra— not the way I'm supposed to, anyway. I haven't loved any of the other girls I've been with, and I was always too scared to try anything with a guy. But here— seeing you again— I don't know, I just started to remember things." 

 

"Like what?" Richie asked, frowning. Eddie looked up at him with sad eyes, but he smiled. 

 

"God, Richie, so many things. Things about you. You were such an idiot." He laughed, burying his face in his hands. When he spoke again, it was slightly muffled. "But Jesus Christ. You made me feel like I was loved by somebody who knew how to love someone right." 

 

"I did love you right," Richie said, a flicker of pride beginning to light in his chest. "And I still would, if you wanted me to." 

 

"I do, Richie," Eddie said desperately, lowering his hands. "You have no idea how badly I want you to love me right. Right into the fuckin' mattress, if you don't mind my saying." 

 

"Jesus fuck, Eddie!" Richie hissed, turning away slightly. "You can't just say things like that—" 

 

"Why not?" Eddie demanded. "All my life I've been in bed with people who don't care— people who don't care if they hurt me, or who care too much about if they'll hurt me, believe it or not. So please don't make me ask you again." The floorboards creaked, and Richie felt like he could hardly breathe when the man stopped right in front of him and lifted his chin, forcing him to stare into those hopeful, longing eyes. 

 

"You're married," Richie almost cried, but he pressed his cheek into the palm of Eddie's hand anyway, and let him pull the glasses off of his face. "What the hell are we doing, Eddie?" 

 

"We're taking what's ours," Eddie replied, pushing his hair out of his face. "Something we should have done twenty-seven years ago, before we let our judgement get clouded, and before we moved on to smaller and worse things." 

 

"Well, you were probably right about the 'smaller' part," Richie mumbled, and Eddie laughed, grabbing his face in his hands and touching their foreheads together. 

 

"There he is," Eddie murmured, smiling. "Come on, 'Chee. Come to bed. Bring me home. Make love to me." 

 

Richie drew in a deep, shuddering breath. 

 

And then he did. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie was terrified. 

 

He crashed down onto the bed, turning his back to the mattress so nobody could sneak up on him. As much as he wanted this, something lingered in the back of his mind— something told him not to allow any room for someone who might take him by surprise. 

 

Eddie didn't seem to mind. He had shoved the Hawaiian shirt off of Richie's shoulders on the way over, and was now dragging his t-shirt over his head. Richie realized he should help— but he couldn't force his arms to move. Eddie pulled the large hoodie from his torso, then discarded a shirt, leaving his chest bare to Richie's eyes, and the man's breath hitched. His heart felt like it was about to pound right out of his chest. His hands were shaking, his breaths were shuddering, and his brain felt like mush. 

 

Then hands were touching his cheeks again, and a pair of lips brushed his forehead. 

 

"Shh," Eddie hushed softly, pushing his curls out of his face. "Breathe, 'Chee. It's okay. I'm scared, too." The tears that had begun to build up in Richie's eyes started to spill, but he finally willed himself into action. He drew back the drawstring of his own sweatpants that hung low on Eddie's hips, watching the knot come undone with wide and mesmerized eyes blurred with tears. 

 

"You're okay," Eddie whispered, and he grabbed Richie's hands, guiding them to the waistband and sitting up on his knees so that Richie could start to work the clothes off of his body. Once Richie had gotten into the groove and pulled them all the way off, Eddie found the button of his jeans. "Is this okay?" He asked. Richie sniffled a little bit, and Eddie kissed his cheek as he nodded, breathing a shaky but desperate 'yes'. 

 

His jeans took a little more work to get off, but they managed. They hit the floor with a soft rustle, and it all felt so much more real when Eddie sat on Richie's hips, leaning down and kissing all over his face, wiping his tears away and whispering sweet nothings into his ears. 

 

"Don't cry, Rich, please," Eddie begged. "What's wrong?" 

 

"I just never thought—" He was cut off by a hiccup, and Eddie started to pull away, but Richie reached up and grabbed at him, holding him in place. "I never thought we would get to be together like this," he cried, shoulders shaking. "And now that we are, I'm— you're— you're just beautiful, Eddie." The man in question laughed, thumbs running over Richie's freckled cheeks, wiping his eyes carefully. 

 

"It's okay," he assured him. "You can cry if you have to. I shouldn't have told you to stop." 

 

"No," Richie groaned, tilting his head back and inhaling deeply through his nose. He shook his head and blinked hard. "No," he repeated. "I won't cry the first time you let me touch you. I won't." He managed to clam himself down, clearing his throat and finally looking at his lover through clear eyes hazed only by the lack of those lenses that sat on the dresser across the room. 

 

"You're such an idiot," Eddie giggled. 

 

"You love me," Richie retorted, looking up at him through the softest eyes he could muster. Eddie smiled down at him. 

 

"Yeah, lucky you," he replied. Then Richie kissed him. Eddie seemed to melt against him, and Richie finally found the strength to flip them over, only pulling away to shift so that the blankets covered them halfway. 

 

A socked foot ran up the back of his calf and he twitched, flinching away as it tickled his skin. Eddie snickered and rolled Richie onto his back again, lacing the fingers of both hands with his and pressing them back against the pillows. 

 

"I love you," he said aloud, and the words caused Richie's heart to thud. Eddie let go of one hand and his fingers danced along the waistband of Richie's boxers. 

 

"I love you, too," Richie returned, and the hand dipped lower still. 

 

"Oh," he gasped.

 

Holy mother of God. 

 

"So th—" he breathed in sharply, eyes fluttering shut. "That's what that feels like," he exhaled, chest rising and falling a bit more rapidly. Eddie chuckled, and Richie's face and neck heated up. 

 

"You gonna make me do all the work?" Eddie murmured against Richie's ear, drawing his earlobe back between his teeth and letting go. Richie shuddered, toes curling as another jolt of pleasure ran up and down his spine. 

 

"If you'd let me up, I'd pull some of my own weight," Richie grumbled, shoving at his partner's shoulder. Eddie sighed dramatically, but rolled onto his back, lifting his legs to curl around Richie's waist. Richie pressed his hips down, enjoying the feeling of Eddie's gasp as he stifled the sound with his own mouth. 

 

It was slow, nervous, and anxiety-ridden. 

 

Richie treated him with as much sweetness and care as he could— Eddie's breath would catch in his throat, and Richie would pause, allow him to catch it once more. Then he would relax, and Richie would kiss his cheek, lips dragging back towards his mouth and lingering there to chase away any gasps or cries. 

 

"I love you," Eddie finally said again, voice rising in a soft crescendo as his head began to tilt back. "I— Jesus, 'Chee— I love you." 

 

Richie felt tears brimming his eyes once again, and he pressed his forehead to Eddie's, refusing them this time around. His own breathing came in shuddering gasps as he reached his own climax. "I love you," he cried. "Don't leave me." 

 

"I won't," Eddie assured, almost alarmed, and his hands came up to grasp Richie's face. Soft lips crushed his own as Eddie sucked the rest of the life out of him, and they moved together, springs of the mattress creaking under their weight. "I promise I won't." 

 

Richie kissed him back just as fiercely, sounds muffled by nothing but the mouth pressed against his as something snapped and stars exploded in his mind. 

 

When the rush was over, and they had cracked the window open to cool the room down, Richie lay with one of Eddie's legs swung over his hips and an arm of his own curled around Eddie's waist. A light sheet was draped over their bodies and the now-rainy, chilled breeze of the night rustled it slightly, but he didn't bother shifting it back into place. 

 

Eddie was sleeping. 

 

Richie watched the brunet's face carefully. He seemed so peaceful. He was so still that for a split second, Richie had the grueling thought that he could very well have been dead. But it wasn't the case. The rise and fall of the man's chest was enough of an indication to disprove this— and the feeling of warm breath against Richie's face as he got close enough to lay a soft kiss against those sleeping lips only further confirmed his status amongst the living. 

 

Yet, all the same, he worried. About the events of the next day, and what he knew was very likely to occur— something that made him hold the slumbering form a little closer. 

 

Richie didn't sleep that night. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

When Richie opened his eyes despite his lack of true sleep, he was greeted with the image that he had envisioned back in the dugout all those years ago.

 

He stared through lidded eyes at the soft, vulnerable face of the man he so desperately loved. Sweet, warm breaths stirred the sheets beneath his head, those beautiful pink lips parted ever-so-slightly. It felt like returning home. Richie wondered if they had ever lay together like this before— and he realized that the had. 

 

New Years, 1993. Aged sixteen and seventeen respectively. The Losers had taken Mike's grandfather's old truck out to the field where the Derry Town Fair now set up it's grounds long before the festival had even existed. Mike was sleeping in the car. Stan and Bill were laying in the grass, shoulder to shoulder, looking up at the rising sun. Ben was sitting stock-still with a sleeping Beverly's head resting on his shoulder— too terrified to sleep. 

 

And Richie had laid with his arms glued to his sides, terrified to reach out and wrap them around the sleeping form beside him. They were the only two that had stayed in the make-shift bed in the back of the truck— blankets bundled up over them, Eddie snuggled in a tiny cocoon— and his face was so close. 

 

Richie had not kissed him yet at this point in time. But while the sun rose on a new day and a new year, and Eddie's face, youthful and peaceful, had scrunched up against the lightening sky, he had so desperately wanted to. 

 

Now he stared once again, in a very similar situation, only Eddie's bare legs were still tangled with his, and he could kiss him if he wanted to— because Eddie was his. 

 

Screw Myra, he thought possessively, kissing Eddie's nose softly. He's mine now. 

 

Eddie's eyelashes fluttered against his cheek when Richie blew on his face. His nose scrunched up— so fucking cute— and then he woke up. 

 

"Fuck you," were the first words that tumbled from his lips. Richie smiled goofily, brushing a strand of brown hair out of Eddie's face. 

 

"Oh, Eddie, my love, I'm afraid we're past that now. Unless you wanted to give it another try..." He wiggled his eyebrows, and Eddie blushed, grabbing Richie's whole face in his hand and turning his head away before rolling over so his back was to his partner. "Oh, come on, now," Richie whined, reaching out and touching Eddie's shoulder. "Don't be mad. I was just teasing." 

 

"You're impossible," Eddie grumbled, but he did peek over his shoulder, before turning onto his back and looking up at the ceiling. The sheet that covered him from the waist down fluttered as he kicked one leg out and let it rest on top of the light fabric. He was leaving little to the imagination and it was driving Richie nuts. 

 

"What's on your mind?" Richie whispered, pressing his lips to Eddie's bare shoulder. The brunet heaved a great sigh and lifted his arm, granting Richie easier access. The man scooted closer, resting his cheek against Eddie's chest. He lifted his head to kiss Eddie's chin this time, and the man grunted, jerking his head away. But his arm fit comfortably around Richie's shoulders, and that was enough for the curly-haired man. 

 

"I'm just thinking about what's going to happen later," Eddie confessed. "I'm scared something is going to go wrong." He looked down at Richie, who tried to smile reassuringly, but his mouth didn't obey. Instead, he frowned. 

 

"I just don't know what I would do if I lost this again," Eddie continued softly. "And... I feel like this is absolutely crazy, totally overstepping my boundaries, but I can't stop thinking about what will happen after all of this, which is even scarier, in a way. I can't stop thinking about what will happen to us after." 

 

"As long as I get to wake up next to you in the morning, I don't care where we are," Richie murmured. Eddie's chest jumped a bit, and the man stilled. Then he was shifting from beneath Richie's head and he kissed him tenderly, mouths slotting together as if they were meant to fit as perfectly as they did. 

 

"I love you, Richie," the man mumbled against his lips, seeming unwilling to pull away. 

 

"I love you too," Richie replied, nibbling on his lower lip, though he wasn't quite in the mood to be frisky. Eddie let him, and they simply shared air for a moment, mouths just barely touching. Eddie's eyes were closed— but Richie kept his open. He sucked Eddie's lip into his mouth, reaching up and caressing his cheek. The man sighed, melting against him easily and initiating a more complete kiss once more. 

 

There was a knock on the door, and Eddie started to pull away, but Richie reached up, holding him close for just a minute longer. Then the knock came again, more persistent, and he relented, grumbling bitterly to himself as he got up and pulled his bathrobe on, tying it closed. 

 

He made his way over to the door and opened it a crack, met with the sight of a tired Ben. The man was leaning against the wall, and Richie peered over his shoulder to see Bev sneak out of a room that clearly wasn't her own, glancing down the hall at them and widening her eyes as she farted further down and got through her own doorway as quietly as possible. 

 

"Hey, Rich," Ben sighed. "Can I come in?" His voice was rough, and gravelly. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week. Richie hesitated, looked back over his shoulder at where Eddie was still splayed out, looking through his phone with a disinterested look on his face. His brown eyes flitted up and met Richie's, flashed with a small amount of laughter, and he smiled, then looked back at his screen. Richie turned back to Ben. 

 

"No," he said honestly. "But if it's urgent, I can come out." 

 

"Oh," Ben said, brow furrowing. Then his eyes widened. "Oh—" 

 

"Shut up," Richie hummed casually, glancing both ways down the hallway once more. "Don't say a word, Haystack, or I swear—" 

 

"Did you two—?" 

 

"Zip it!" Richie hissed, face darkening. "What do you want?" 

 

"Oh," Ben said again, and his own cheeks seemed to be a little rosy now. "Well— I just needed to tell everyone that we have a problem." 

 

"That problem being...?" Richie asked, beginning to grow impatient. He had a beautiful boy in his bed that he could be stalling for time with. 

 

"Mike is in the hospital," Ben said in a rush, and Richie's stomach dropped. 

 

Shit. 

 

"Bowers," he groaned, pinching his brow. "Of course. How could I have forgotten?" 

 

"Bowers?" Ben asked, alarmed. "How did you—" 

 

"It doesn't matter," Richie interrupted, holding up a hand. "I'll just— We'll get dressed. You go tell Bill and Bev. We'll go visit him. And then we'll finish this." 

 

Ben looked at him with doubtful, scared, and just a little bit sad eyes. "Are you sure, Rich?" Richie closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, a sort of longing pulling him back into his room by some imaginary threads.

 

The threads of love. 

 

He shook his head, straightened up, and offered a grim smile. 

 

"Positive. Now, get out of here. The love of my life is waiting for me." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Walking into Mike's hospital room was another first for Richie. He glanced around, found the lump laying on the bed in the corner, and immediately looked away again. Mike was sleeping. The doctors said this many visitors couldn't come in at once, so Richie paired up with Eddie, and they shuffled in side by side. 

 

"He's on a lot of painkillers, so he might not wake up for you," the nurse said, before exiting and leaving the door open just slightly. They shuffled closer together, and stood looking down at him, hand in hand. 

 

Mike did not wake up, but if he had, Richie had a feeling he knew what he would say. 

 

End it, Rich. For the love of God, please just end it.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Everyone was quiet as they piled back into Eddie's rental, and for a few minutes, they sat in silence in the parking lot of the small hospital. Then Bill started the ignition and they pulled away, heading to the same place they always headed. Every time. 

 

Richie started at Eddie the whole way. He tried to commit his face to memory, though it wasn't likely he would ever forget a feature anyway. He looked for constellations in the man's freckles. Held his hands and memorized every dip and bump, the length of every finger, the warmth of them against his lips. Nobody said anything. Eddie just watched him carefully, expressionless as Richie played with his hands, focused and distracted at the same time. 

 

After fifteen minutes had passed, though, he couldn't keep pretending that he was calm. He let go of Eddie's hands and looked at him with what he knew were desperate eyes. Eddie reached out and brushed his fingers through Richie's curls, swiping his thumb lovingly across Richie's cheekbone. 

 

The 'Welcome to Derry, ME' flashed past. Richie frowned deeply and pressed Eddie's hand against the side of his face, kissing the tip of his thumb softly and allowing his eyes to trail towards the window. Trees flashed past, the occasional house, then they would slow and turn onto the next street, and speed up again. He knew it was a matter of minutes now. 

 

When they pulled up to number twenty-nine Neibolt street, Richie was once again reluctant to get out of the car. But everyone was pulling out, and his knowing dread held no justification to any of them— except for Bev, who was watching him closely with carefully guarded eyes. 

 

He knew she was aware of what he had been through. But she remained silent, and Richie wondered if she knew what happened to Eddie this time around. Surely she did. She had seen all of it in the deadlights. Suddenly, he felt the urge to take her by the shoulders and yell until she told him. If he failed, he only had three chances left— he was running out of time. That much was evident. 

 

Then their eye contact broke, and she turned decisively away, chewing on her lower lip as she walked towards Bill. Resentment caused Richie's stomach to churn, but he didn't say anything. Eddie lingered at his side, and Richie slung an arm around his neck, pulling him close and pressing a kiss against the side of his face. The brunet stood with his head buried in Richie's chest, pushing weakly, but not struggling as much as he could. He let go anyway, and the pressure remained for a fleeting moment, before Eddie pulled away and they walked up to the front steps. 

 

"This is f-f-for Stanley," Bill said without turning around. There was a moment of silence, then they all filed inside. It was unsettlingly quiet. The house almost felt empty— as if whatever had been living there had fled as they entered. They stayed in a tightly-knit pack this time, which Richie appreciated, and headed for the kitchen. He reached out and grabbed Bill's sleeve when a soft sound drifted down the stairs. 

 

Growling. Snapping jaws. The dull scrape of claws against a wooden wall. A heavy foot fall as the creature began to descend the stairs. 

 

"Go," he whispered. Bill looked around at him, alarmed. 

 

"R-R-R-Rich—" 

 

"Go!" Richie shouted, pushing him forward. Bev, who was glued to Bill's side, stumbled with him, and Ben followed. Eddie, however, didn't budge. 

 

"No fuckin' way, 'Chee," he said, shaking his head. "You stay right here with us—" there was a howling shriek as the thing reached the bottom, and Richie turned his head, saw the wild brown fur, those haunting yellow eyes— 

 

"Don't you fucking die on me," Richie told Eddie firmly. The brunet's eyes widened as Richie grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him through the doorframe. "Get the fuck out of here!" He shouted, slamming the door shut. He thought he heard a lock, but he wasn't sure, because seconds later, the Teenage Werewolf was practically upon him. 

 

"Richie!" He heard Eddie's voice scream faintly as he fell back with a shriek of his own and scrambled back on his ass towards the front door. The hulking figure stalked towards him, claws gleaming in the light that trickled through every broken window. Then it charged. 

 

Richie got to his feet with a string of curse words flooding from his mouth and ran. He nearly fell down the front steps, turning tail and diving for the lattice-skirt, even more faded and tattered than it had been in his memory. For a feeling, terrifying moment, he could not find purchase. He heard the porch creak as he finally shoved himself beneath it. 

 

It was a much tighter squeeze now, and just as deathly hot and dark. He dragged himself towards the window, still broke, he hoped— but his hand hit solid glass. The floorboards whined and groaned under the weight above his head, and he held his breath as the movement stilled. Then something knocked right above his head, the same pattern that any kid who wanted to have a 'secret' knock would choose— 

 

Knock, knock, knock knock, knock. 

 

Terror seizing him in its vice-like grip, he started to pound on the window. The sound was jarring— there was a muffled shriek from the porch above, and it almost sounded like some sort of inhuman laughter. Richie hit the glass again, panic rising like a tidal wave in his chest. The creaks got closer to the edge. It was on the stairs now. 

 

"Guys!" Richie screamed, pounding on the window with all of his strength 

 

(goddamnit mom why don't you feed me)

 

just as there was a terrible ripping sound and light began to trickle in behind him as the skirt surrounding the porch was peeled away. Hot, stinking breath wafted into the dark crawl space and Richie started to shift, turning over on his back and kicking desperately at the window. He thought he heard a crack, but maybe it was just wishful thinking. 

 

holy shit oh my God he's right behind me he's coming in I CAN FEEL HIM HE'S RIGHT THERE I'M GOING TO DIE I'M GOING TO— 

 

Finally, the glass gave way, and Richie slid through the window just as the paw came down where his head had been moments before. He felt his palm slice through the glass just as it had done when he was a kid, and he skittered down the coal, vision swimming as he struggled to catch his breath. 

 

"Richie!" A voice screamed, and suddenly there were hands on his face, his shoulders, gripping his wrist and prying his hand opened to look at the cut— he hissed in pain, pulling his hand away— then he whirled around to look up at the window, anticipating another attack. The Werewolf snarled tauntingly, face swimming in the darkness. Then it disappeared. 

 

"Oh my God," he moaned, knees buckling, and he hit a solid surface— Ben— that held him up, despite his shaking legs. "Oh dear God, Jesus, help us." 

 

"We h-h-have to k-keep going!" Bill shouted, and Richie's vision cleared enough to see the man already beginning to disappear down into the well. Bev went next, and Richie pulled away from Ben, looking down at the person who was closely examining his bloodied palm. 

 

"Eddie," he said, trying to pull away, but the brunet held on tightly, and Richie realized he was crying. "Eddie," he said again, more urgently this time, concern trickling into his voice. The man looked up, tears cutting through his already-dirtied cheeks and leaving clean trails behind them. 

 

"Don't you ever," Eddie said in a violently trembling voice, "do that again. Ever." 

 

"Cross my heart, hope to die?" Richie offered with a weak smile. Eddie's face contorted and he sobbed brokenly as Ben started to climb down. Richie drew the brunet in close and held him as he cried, kissing his cheeks and nose. 

 

"Shh," he whispered into the man's ear. "It's okay. I'm here. We're going to be fine. But we have to go now, before we fall behind. Okay?" 

 

"Okay," Eddie sniffled, wiping at his eyes and pulling away. "Okay," he said again, more clearly, voice more steady. "But you go first. No more running off." 

 

"No more running off," Richie agreed, swinging a leg over the edge of the stone well and starting to climb down. "Come on, now. We don't know when that thing is going to come back." He watched as Eddie climbed after him, painfully slowly, feet slipping every now and then. Richie's life practically flashed before his eyes for Eddie when he almost lost his grip for the third time. "Jesus, please be careful," he pleaded. 

 

"I'm sorry!" Eddie seethed, and finally, he squeezed himself into the gap in the wall with the rest of them. "That's the worst part," he complained. 

 

"No it's not," Richie retorted. Eddie looked at him for a second, face grim. 

 

"No," he admitted a moment later. "It's not." 

 

They ventured into the sewer system, even closer than they had been before. Everyone was touching the people closest to them— Eddie was pressed to Richie's side and gripped Bev's hand. Ben had a hand on Bill's shoulder and his shoulder brushed Richie's. Bev held Bill's arm and Richie kept shifting his free hand between her and Bill's shoulders anxiously. 

 

Eddie was able to direct them for the most part. When they got to the cavern where they had fought It for the first time and started to wade through the water, Richie was on high alert. He could feel It's presence— much like he usually felt it in the place It lived. 

 

When Bev got sucked underwater by a mutilated and sagging old lady, he hardly had time to think before the thing was grabbing at his feet, too. He shrieked, kicking with all of his might, and suddenly the floor was gone— the water hadn't been this deep before. He hardly managed to suck in a breath before a hand— or was it a paw?— dragged him below the surface. 

 

He thrust his hands upward, desperately kicking, and he almost forgot not to scream. The paw thrashed him around by the ankle, and something in the muscles of his leg strained against the movement. He cried out instinctively, bubbles of air escaping his mouth and floating upwards as pain shot up and down his right leg. 

 

Then a hand, a human hand, closed around his wrist and dragged him upwards. The paw held on, but as soon as his head broke the surface it faded back to the bottom. Richie took in vast gulps of air, struggling to the island of broken toys and lost items. The same hands that had pulled him up to the surface guided him to the edge of the water and hauled him out. He lay on his back gasping for breath. 

 

After a moment he rolled over and coughed up a few mouthfuls of water. 

 

"Gross!" He groaned at himself, flopping back down and trying to lift his leg. He winced. A muscle had definitely been pulled, but it didn't feel too serious. 

 

"Richie?" Eddie was at his side in and instant, pushing sopping curls of dark hair out of his face. Richie started to sit up with his help, and looked around wildly. Bev was crouched far from the water's edge, shaking, but beginning to stand with Bill's help. Richie followed her lead, and Eddie curled an arms around his waist upon noticing him favoring the right leg. 

 

"Is everyone okay?" Ben's voice rang out. His hair was dripping with water too— he must have been the one who pulled him out, Richie realized, and made a mental note to thank him once this was all over. 

 

If it's ever all over. 

 

He pushed the thought away and hobbled over to the trap door, bending down and throwing it open. They all seemed to breathe in together, staring down into the chilled caves that held what they all knew to be the very embodiment of evil itself. 

 

"Ready?" 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie got Eddie through one of the cracks in the cavern walls as quick has he could this time. Everyone had made a break for it as soon as the spider-clown had appeared, and he could hear it's laughter as it dug at one of the walls, reaching for a different Loser. 

 

But Richie could hardly care less. He took Eddie's face in his hands, stared deep into his eyes, and said, "Let's go." 

 

"Go?" Eddie asked, confusion flashing in those beautiful brown eyes. "What do you mean, 'go'? We can't leave them here." 

 

"Why the fuck not?" Richie countered. "We could run away— you and me. And like I said before, I don't care where we are—" 

 

"—as long as I get to wake up next to you in the morning," Eddie finished, face crumpling. "But, Richie—" 

 

"But nothing!" Richie shushed him. "We'll catch the soonest flight to L.A. and we can sleep on the plane. You'll love it there. And when we get home, we can just lay around on the couch, pick a movie if you want. I have popcorn. And we can—" 

 

"Yes," Eddie said, tears brimming in his eyes. "Yes, Richie, God, yes. I want that more than anything." 

 

"So lets go!" Richie begged, grabbing Eddie's hands and pressing them to his cheeks. Eddie looked up at him with his eyebrows knit together, thinking hard. "Let's just go, fuck all of this, fuck Derry. Who cares if It feeds off of this town forever? We don't ever have to come back." 

 

"Richie, we cant," Eddie protested, tears beginning to spill over his dirtied cheeks. "What about Bill, and Ben, and—" 

 

"Fuck them!" Richie shouted, grabbing Eddie by the shoulders, and Eddie's eyes went wide. "Fuck them!" Richie said again. "We don't owe them anything! We could get out of here right now, and live the life we've always wanted. They're the only thing holding us back. So fuck them!" He stared intensely down into Eddie's face and saw that he was petrified. Dread began to gurgle in Richie's stomach as he realized how tightly he was gripping Eddie's arms. He let go and backed away, horrified with himself. 

 

"Eddie, I—" he broke off, face going white. "I'm so sorry. I don't... I don't know what I was saying." 

 

"Please don't cry, 'Chee," Eddie sobbed, wiping his eyes only for more tears to fall and replace the old ones. "Please don't—" But Richie's chest was hitching, and he suddenly understood that no matter what he did, he was never going to win. 

 

"Fuck you!" He suddenly screamed at the top of his voice, storming out into the open cavern. "Fuck you, you stupid fucking clown-ass son of a bitch!" 

 

"Richie!" Eddie cried from behind him, but he ignored it, picking up a rock, and just like the first time, he hurdled it towards the spider-like figure, striking it in the back of the head. 

 

"You've taken everything from me!" He bellowed so loudly that he felt it tearing up his throat. "What more could you possibly want? Why don't you just fucking kill me already?!" 

 

The beast turned towards him with a malicious glint in It's eyes, stalking forth with agonizingly slow speed. It sneered at him, drool pooling from its mouth and hitting the stone at its feet. It got close enough to tower over him, looking down with a horrifying presence, and Richie realized that he was no longer afraid. It snarled, stabbing a leg into the rocks beside him. A few pebbles sprayed up and hit the side of his face, but he hardly flinched. 

 

"Because watching you suffer is the best part of all," the clown hissed, spit flying from it's deep red lips. "Because every chance you get, your resolve fades— and when your time is up, you'll want to die even if you don't already." 

 

"Why me?" Richie cried selfishly. "Why not Bill? Or Ben? Anyone but me?" 

 

"Because you are the biggest pain in my ass!" It shrieked, rearing up and slamming its spiked legs back down again. "I have seen every possible outcome— I know you, inside and out, Funny Boy!" 

 

"And how does this one end?" He asked, spreading his arms out wide. He faintly heard Eddie calling him, begging, pleading for him to come back into the safety of their little hole in the wall. 

 

"Do you really wish to know?" It asked, lowering its head so that its humongous face was at eye-level. Richie nodded silently, and it smirked, cracking a grin that revealed teeth sharper than even the Werewolf's. "I kill him," it said simply, and emotion became nearly overwhelming as Richie clenched his fists so hard his nails cut into his skin. "I kill him and you cry over his body, just like the last time." 

 

"Fuck you," Richie grated, face contorting. He stalked forward, and for a moment he thought he saw a flicker of fear in those huge amber eyes. 

 

Good. 

 

"Fuck you!" He said again, shouting this time. It took a few steps back, but Richie broke into a sprint, scooping up a rock as he went and lodging it into the thing's eyeball. "You wanna touch him again?" He demanded, picking up stone after stone and lobbing every single one as hard as he could. "You gonna fucking lay your slimy-ass hands on him?" He got close enough to grab one of those spindly legs and he yanked on it, stabbing sharp stones into whatever soft spots he could find. 

 

It screamed out in pain, and Richie continued to stab blindly, tearing into whatever flesh he could get his hands on. The thing wailed miserably, limbs flicking at him, but he hit the ground and rolled underneath it, grabbing a particularly jagged pierce of rock and lodging it upwards into the spider's underbelly. There was a deafening screech, and Richie caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye. 

 

Bev, Ben, and Bill flooded out into the cavern with wide, disbelieving eyes. Bev scrambled for her spike. Time seemed to slow down as she got a grip on the metal rod, wound up, and threw it as hard as she could. It spiraled through the air, and although Richie was underneath It, he knew by the sound of a sickening thunk that it had hit its mark. He barely rolled out of the way of flailing legs as It fell back onto the sharp edges of its own crater, impaling itself on its own home. 

 

Richie scrambled away, looking up at it. He thought for a fleeting second, We did it. It's dying. We've won. 

 

Then Eddie came out of the crack in the wall, and It jerked its head to the side, gaze zeroing in on him instantly. One of its longer limbs seemed to grow sharper, into a talon of sorts. Richie's heart seemed to stop beating in his chest. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie shouted, the relief in his voice evident as he said aloud the very thoughts that Richie had been having moments before. "We did it! It's dying! I think we won, I think we—" 

 

Richie started to move just a little too late. He broke into a sprint, and Eddie's face lit up in the most beautiful smile. He started to run, too. Richie thought, for just a second, that he might make it this time. Eddie reached out, and Richie snagged his wrist. He pulled the man's body close and turned him away from where he thought the spiked limb would be heading. He dared to think, I made it this time. I kept him safe. 

 

A searing pain exploded in his lower body as something just barely pierced his skin. Eddie's grip around his neck tightened. Richie looked down and saw the long pincer jutting out of Eddie's back, where his back had been just seconds prior. 

 

It was aiming for me, he realized with a dawning horror. Eddie made a choked noise right next to his ear. 

 

No. 

 

The body was ripped from his arms as It pulled it's spike back, taking Eddie with it. 

 

"No!" Richie screamed aloud. "No, stop it! You were aiming for me, you wanted me!" 

 

Eddie's body was flung off of the sharp edge and it hit the ground with a thud. It was still screaming, struggling against the spike that it was stuck on. Richie looked down at his own torso and saw where the pincer had shallowly impaled him as well— though not all the way through as it had done to Eddie. 

 

He looked up to see the other Losers already crowded around his body, dragging it towards the nearest gap. 

 

Richie started to run. 

 

A gloved hand closed around the back of his shirt and lifted him into the air, kicking and screaming. 

 

"Let me go!" He screeched. "Let me see him!" 

 

"You don't want me to finish the job?" It asked, voice hoarse. Finally, It began to lift its body off of the spike. Richie watched helplessly as Eddie's dying form was hidden away between the rocks, and he dangled limply in the monster's grasp. "No," it chuckled. "We're going to feel him die— together. And then you're going to have three more chances. You'll fail every time. And every time, you'll feel a part of yourself fade away, just as his life leaves his body." 

 

Hot, fat tears streamed down Richie's face, blurring his vision, and he sobbed openly, hardly even fighting anymore. 

 

There was a terrible sensation. It was like being thrown out of his own body— then he hit the solid ground, and he was looking around, and he realized that he was in the cave with the others. He tried to move, but he couldn't— his body moved for him. Feelings that weren't his began to invade his mind. 

 

richierichierichie where the fuck is richie— 

 

"No!" Richie tried to shout, dull horror rising in his chest, but his body— or, rather, Eddie's body— did not respond to his commands. He heard Eddie's voice as if he were speaking aloud, watched the world through Eddie's eyes, caught a glimpse of his own limp body through the crack in the wall— 

 

richierichieRICHIE OH MY GOD SOMEBODY GO HELP HIM— 

 

Then the pain hit him, and Richie's vision started to dim, black clouding his eyes and threatening to take over. It was getting harder to breathe, harder to think, and his— Eddie's— thoughts were sluggish. 

 

Richie come back please come back I'm scared Richie please—

 

Richie couldn't breathe. Eddie was staring down at his torso, where his clothes had become a deep crimson, and all that was clouding his mind were thoughts of 

 

(RICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIE)

 

the past and what used to be. 

 

Richie felt Eddie's heart skip a beat when he woke up on New Years with his face that close to the other boy's, and how he had wanted to kiss him too, but chickened out. 

 

Richie felt Eddie's terror the first time the actually did kiss— just a little peck before Richie gathered his clothes and left the quarry in a hurry. 

 

Richie felt Eddie's twinge of frustrated affection every time the word Eds or Spaghetti were uttered aloud. 

 

Richie felt Eddie's love and heart-aching warmth whenever they shared the hammock, swinging together within the quiet confines of the otherwise empty clubhouse. 

 

Richie felt Eddie's feelings, and for the first time in his life, he truly accepted them as something that could be real. 

 

One last thought flickered in and out of his mind, one that he wasn't sure was his, or his dying soulmate's— and for a moment he became aware of the fact that it was both. 

 

I love you. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

7.   Wildfire

 

When you sold the world your soul, it turned away

And it's promise left you empty and unchanged

It breaks me now to see you hurt this way

From the dust you've been made beautiful

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

 

As the last of the life force faded from Eddie's body, all Richie could bring himself to think was: 

 

I meant 'I love you', every time. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

It had him right where it wanted him now. 

 

There were three chances left, and he wouldn't last. Not with what It had planned this time around. 

 

He would remember. And the little shit would get what he deserves.

 

Everything ended. Then it began again. 

 

Time moved backwards, in reverse, spinning like a top. 

 

Then it stopped. 

 

And the world started spinning once more.

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie's eyes fluttered opened, and he didn't move, closing them again and exhaling steadily. His heart sank in his chest, and a single tear leaked from the corner of his eye, sliding gently off of his face and hitting the mattress with a soft thud heard only by his ears. 

 

Then his expression crumpled, and more tears followed. He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face into them, shoulder shaking as he cried silently. Sniffling, gasping breaths wracked his body as he sobbed, creating a puddle of dampness on his pillow. The force with which he cried began to cause his head to throb and he kept going until he had no tears left and his face was dried but his body still shook with quiet whimpers. 

 

I am so, so tired. 

 

He finally rolled over onto his back, rubbing his face and eyes with his hands. He sniffled a little bit and cleared his throat, staring at the ceiling. It was raining again this time. He once again tried to let the patter of raindrops against the window soothe him, but every tap just seemed to get louder and more threatening. He pressed his palms to his ears, but the sound thundered on in his head. He forced himself into a sitting position and scurried over to his suitcase, pulling out the same jeans and sweatshirt as always. He threw them on, grabbed his glasses, and pressed his ear to the door, listening, though he could hardly hear anything through the overwhelming sound of rain against his window. 

 

He heard the dull sound of suitcases being dragged down the hall, a soft thud, and a muffled curse. 

 

Eddie. 

 

Richie put his hand on the doorknob, then hesitated. He looked through the peephole and saw the man struggling with all of his things. The words of Henry Bowers echoed in his mind. 

 

Don't go anywhere on your own next time, Tozier, or you'll remember everything.

 

He opened the door. 

 

Richie didn't remember Eddie looking this exhausted. Then again, he was pretty sure he looked like shit himself. His eyes still felt raw under his glasses and he was sure they were bloodshot. He was still sniffling. His hands shook. Eddie's head jerked up as soon as the sound of the door opening reached his ears— he stared at Richie for a moment, alarmed, then seemed to relax. Recognition flashed in his eyes. 

 

"Richie," he sighed. 

 

His heart clenched upon hearing his name uttered by the man who's most recent death was raw in Richie's mind. It was different this time. He hadn't just watched Eddie die— he had felt it. And now, as he observed the distance between them, he wanted nothing more than to maintain it. 

 

"Hey, Eddie," he replied, although hardly any sound came out. His voice was hoarse. He felt like he might be coming down with something. Eddie gave him a once-over, brow furrowing, and Richie couldn't even find it in him to be flustered by the very obvious check-out. He was just exhausted. 

 

"You look like shit," Eddie muttered, finally getting his door unlocked and shoving it opened. The wood of his door screeched against the floor— it barely dragged open. Something new. Eddie's room was dingier than last time. "This place looks like shit." 

 

"Yeah, well, I feel like shit," Richie rasped, picking up one of Eddie's many bags and walking it into the room. "And this place is older than our grandparents. It was bound to look like shit." 

 

"God, I hope the bed isn't as dusty as the dresser," the brunet said, coughing as he placed down a toiletry bag and a cloud of small dust particles came flying up in his face. He wheezed slightly, and the familiar-but-unfamiliar weight seemed to be in Richie's back pocket once more before disappearing again. He didn't think much of it. 

 

"If it is, you can use mine," Richie offered. His voice didn't seem to be in any hurry to return. Eddie looked over his shoulder, and Richie stood rooted to the spot with one of Eddie's bags hanging loosely in his grip. He was slouching— his shoulders hunched forward. He knew he had bags under his reddened eyes. He felt like he was pale. Eddie's frown deepened. 

 

"Are you okay, Rich?" He asked cautiously, taking a step closer, and the bag fell from Richie's trembling fingers as he took a step back, what little color he had left draining from his face. 

 

"Yup," Richie said, but his voice shook almost as hard as the hands he was hiding in the pocket of his hoodie. "Yup, everything's fine, I'm okay, I'm—" 

 

"On drugs?" Eddie guessed. "Or— still plane-sick?" 

 

"No, I—" Richie started to say, but Eddie cut him off with more guesses. 

 

"Is it anxiety?" He asked, fumbling with his fanny pack. "Cause I have something you could take for that— it's probably illegal if you do, but what the hell, I won't let you take too much— or maybe you're actually sick," he gasped. "Maybe we should go see Mr. Keene. Come on, let's get in the car, I'll call Mike and say you're not feeling well—" 

 

"Eddie!" 

 

The brunet nearly jumped out of his skin, and for a fleeting moment, Richie felt guilty for yelling— though his voice had hardly reached a high enough volume to truly cut the man off. He ran a hand down the side of his face then pinched his brow, backing into the doorway and standing there for a minute. 

 

"I'm fine," he finally said, looking up with his eyebrows knit together. "I just— I've had some weird dreams. About this place. I don't feel good. But I want to get this over with so I can go home and forget it ever happened. So will you walk to the library with me?" 

 

Eddie's mouth had fallen open into a perfect 'o' of shock. He stumbled over himself for a moment— "Well, yeah, of course, Rich, I mean, I— Yeah, of course—" then composed himself. He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Yes," he said more firmly. "I'll let Mike know we're on our way." 

 

"Okay," Richie said, nodding, even though it made his head throb. Eddie whipped out his phone, and Richie stood still, thinking— then said, "You wouldn't happen to have any Advil, would you?" Eddie hardly glanced up, thumbs flying across the screen, but he pulled one hand away long enough to unzip his fanny pack and sift through without truly looking. He found the painkiller with little issue and tossed the bottle. Richie fished out two capsules and swallowed them dry, wincing as they dragged their ways slowly down his throat. Eddie looked up, a nervous smile on his face. 

 

"Mike said we can head over," he told Richie, beginning to walk over. Richie backed the rest of the way into the hallway, watching the man pick his already-damp umbrella up off of the floor on the way by and close the door behind him. When Eddie looked at him expectantly, Richie reluctantly sidled up beside his old friend and took a deep breath. Eddie glanced out the window as they headed down the stairs and approached the door, grimacing. "Doesn't look like it's letting up." Richie shrugged, forcing a weak smile.

 

"Maybe we'd better take your car instead." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

They picked Mike up and the man got into the car quickly— they didn't idle around like usual, and Richie did not want to see Sam, so he did not go in the gift shop. The ride to the restaurant was a quiet one for him. Eddie was driving, and Mike sat in the middle row, talking to Eddie while Richie sat silently in the passenger seat, staring at the raindrops on the window. 

 

He pulled his hood over his head as the parked as close to the restaurant as they could get, then stepped out of the car, hurrying inside. Eddie and Mike hurried in behind him, shaking off the umbrella and hanging up their raincoats. Richie put his hood down, shoving his hands into his pockets and lurking by the heater. 

 

It was like clockwork. 

 

Mike started to check in, Eddie glanced over, and walked towards Richie with a shy, hesitant look in his eyes. Richie faced him, cautious as the man seemed to move to the very edge of his personal space and consider taking a step further, then faltered, remaining a few feet away. 

 

"Rich, are you sure you're okay?" He asked, tilting his head. "I don't you, you just seem... haunted. Like you've seen a ghost or something." Richie didn't answer. He averted his eyes, looking down at his feet and kicking at the crease between tiles on the floor. 

 

"Richie?" Eddie asked, alarm seeping into his voice. He took that last step forward, into Richie's bubble, and moved his arms as if to reach out. 

 

"Don't." His voice was strangled and he jerked back, hitting the wall and pressing against it, even though the heater was going full blast against his back and he was starting to sweat. He drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and said again, "Please don't." 

 

"'Chee, what the hell is going on?!" Eddie asked, eyes wildly concerned. "What's wrong?" 

 

"Nothing! Just leave me alone, I don't want to talk about it!" Richie insisted, lifting his hands to cover his ears— the rain was back, pounding in his eardrums, louder than ever— just go away— and he couldn't breathe. 

 

"No!" Eddie retorted. "I want to know what's wrong— I want to help! Is it the nightmares? For the love of God, Rich, what is it—" 

 

"Stop!" Richie all but shouted. Eddie went rigid, staring at him with huge eyes. Richie felt himself shaking. Mike was looking from all the way across the entrance hall, mouth open slightly. Richie gripped his head in his hands, sliding down the wall, faintly aware of the sweat dripping down the back of his neck-  but he felt frigid. He was shivering. Eddie looked down at him, shocked and alarmed, but all Richie could hear was the pounding of the rain— or was it the blood roaring in his ears? Was it his heart pounding in his chest? It didn't matter. It was blocking out everything else. He was suffocating. Tears blurred his vision. Hands touched his shoulder and he flinched away, a gasp tearing through his lungs. 

 

"Don't," he begged. "Please don't touch me." 

 

Nobody touched him after that. But soft voices spoke to him. Voices he thought he recognized. 

 

"Just breathe, Richie. You're okay. You're safe." 

 

"Don't worry, man. Everything is going to be okay." 

 

"Is he alright? What happened?" 

 

"We aren't sure. He just freaked out on us all of a sudden." 

 

"He didn't look good when I saw him at the townhouse. I'm really worried about him." 

 

"He looks like he's having some kind of panic attack!" 

 

Richie tried to calm himself down. He knew people must be looking. After what felt like ages, the pounding in his ears started to die down. He realized he could hear the faint bustle of a working restaurant. He opened his eyes a crack and saw feet standing in front of him, a respectful few feet away. He was still shaking slightly— but he lifted his head, staring around wildly at the people that surrounded him, blocking his corner off from other people's line of sight. 

 

"Something must have set him off," Bev was saying, arms folded across her chest. Richie could see the bruises littered across her creamy skin, and slight anger flared up in his chest. But he was distracted as another voice spoke up. 

 

"Sh-Sh-Should we c-cancel lunch?" 

 

Bill. Richie looked up at him, still gaining his bearings, when a softer voice sounded near his ear much more at his level. He turned his head to look at Eddie, who was crouched a few feet away with a soft, concerned look on his face. 

 

"You okay, 'Chee?" The man was asking. "There's this thing I used to do when I got overwhelmed— it might help if you wanna do it with me." 

 

"Okay," Richie managed, voice even more gone than before. He pulled his knees up to his chest and his heart jumped when Eddie smiled, eyes brightening. 

 

"Okay?" He checked, then started to shift closer. "Can I sit with you?" Alarms rang off in Richie's head as the man started to slide into place beside him, but he forced himself to nod, swallowing thickly as a shoulder brushed his. Eddie looked up at the others, who had fallen silent. "I can handle it, you guys," he said softly. "Go sit. I'll have sprite if they ask. What do you want, 'Chee?" 

 

"Water," he whispered. The others shuffled away, throwing glances back at them as they went. Richie clasped his hands together, squeezing tight and releasing, then repeating the process. 

 

"Alright," Eddie murmured. "I have this countdown— my therapist taught it to me." Richie thought, You had a therapist? I never knew that. Then Eddie continued. "Tell me five things you can see. Any five things." 

 

Richie looked around for a few seconds, then said, "The people going out the door." 

 

"Good," Eddie encouraged. "What else?" 

 

"My hands," Richie continued, holding them up. "Your face. The front desk. A waitress carrying a tray of food. A kid knocking over that bamboo plant over there." He gestured vaguely, and Eddie followed his gaze, then chuckled. The sound made Richie feel a little better. 

 

Just a little. 

 

"That was six, but good job," Eddie praised, and Richie's cheeks warmed up. He lifted his hands to cover them. Eddie continued, saying, "Now tell me what you can feel. Four things this time." 

 

Breathing beginning to slow to its normal rate, Richie closed his eyes. "My sweatshirt is damp," he told Eddie. "The heater is really hot against my back. The ground is hard and it's making my ass hurt." Eddie laughed at that one, and again, Richie's heart began to lighten its load. He almost smiled. "And I can feel you," he finished. Off of Eddie's confused look, he explained, "Your shoulder. I can feel it touching mine." 

 

"Oh, right." The brunet's expression softened. "Good. You're doing well." Richie hated how warm his cheeks got, once again. He pulled his sleeves over his hands and covered his face, taking another deep breath. 

 

"What's next?" He asked, voice muffled by his hands. 

 

"Three things you can hear," Eddie said, and he tilted his head, cheek touching Richie's shoulder. Richie tried to relax, and even let his head lean against Eddie's stomach beginning to settle. 

 

"People talking," he said. "Silverware and glasses clinking. Your breathing." 

 

"Mhm," Eddie said. "Good. Now tell me two things you can smell." 

 

"Food," Richie answered immediately, and his stomach growled. Eddie laughed, and Richie finally managed a smile, before turning his head and taking an obvious whiff of Eddie's hair like he had done at the fair. "And your shampoo." 

 

"Stop sniffing me!" Eddie giggled. "Okay. Tell me one thing you can taste. And you can't say anything about me this time." Was Richie imagining things, or were the man's cheeks turning red? 

 

"The fuck am I supposed to do for this one? Suck my own toes?" He asked, smile coming more easily when Eddie threw his head back, clutching his stomach as he laughed. They got a few strange looks— but it was to be expected. They were two grown men sitting on the floor and laughing at nothing. The thought made Richie give a chuckle of his own. 

 

"Fine," he relented. "I can taste the air— it's greasy restaurant air. Can we go eat now?" 

 

"Do you feel better?" Eddie countered, and Richie thought about it as he stood up, blinking slowly. Then he started to nod. 

 

"Yeah," he replied after a minute. "I do. Thanks, Eds." The brunet's nose wrinkled. 

 

"I'll let that one slide," he relented, and it had been so long since he protested the nicknames that Richie was almost confused. But he shook his head with a smile and shrugged. Then Eddie asked, "Is it okay if I ask what happened?" and Richie hesitated. 

 

He wanted to tell him. 

 

Did he want to tell him? 

 

He felt torn. He had only told everyone the one time— and they hadn't really believed him until he proved it. But the only secrets he knew that could prove it were offensive ones that might lose him the trust of some of the Losers. He bit his lip, hesitating. 

 

"It's a long story," he finally relented. "One that I'd rather tell with everyone in the room. I don't want to say it more than once." 

 

"Okay," Eddie agreed. They headed across the hall and towards the private table, shoulders bumping the whole way. Everyone looked up as they arrived— their usual two seats empty. Eddie said, "Everyone, Richie has something to tell us." All eyes were on him. Richie swallowed thickly. 

 

Then he told them. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

"Holy fucking shit, dude," Mike said. "You're telling the truth right now? No jokes?" 

 

"No jokes, I fuckin' swear, Mikey," Richie said, putting his hands up in defense. Eddie was looking at him with an ashy grey face, pale and scared. Richie wanted to reach out, to comfort him— so he did. He let an arm drift out, touched Eddie's shoulder. The brunet drifted towards him, but not too close. He seemed to relax as he got close enough for their shoulders to once again brush. 

 

"He's telling the truth," Bev piped up, and all attention went to her. "I saw it," she added uncomfortably. "In the deadlights. I remember now. He's right about everything." 

 

"Everything?" Eddie asked, voice wavering, and Richie reached out again, grabbing his arm. He didn't move any closer. 

 

"Everything," Bev agreed, looking sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Eddie." 

 

"Well, w-w-what happens this t-time?" Bill asked. "We c-can save him this t-t-time." 

 

"Yeah," Bev agreed, but she met Richie's eyes and he knew he was the only one who saw the flicker of doubt. She looked guilty for a brief second, then broke eye-contact. Richie swallowed thickly. 

 

"I don't know about you guys," he said, voice still hoarse and shaking, "but I'm fucking exhausted. I'm starting to give up here. I don't know what to do. I don't have many chances left, and I keep fucking up, and I—" 

 

"Can we talk about it for a second?" Eddie asked, turning to face him. "Just you and me?" Silence fell over the group. Richie looked at his friends for help, but they just looked back expectantly. Then a hand was gripping his wrist and he was pulled back out into the hall. 

 

"Richie," Eddie said, voice strained, and Richie reached towards him, grabbing his shoulders and steadying him. "Am I going to die?" 

 

"No way," Richie said, but it felt like a horrible lie and it left a bad taste in his mouth. "I won't let that happen again." 

 

"There are things I still want to do," Eddie said, breaths beginning to have a slight wheeze to them. "Things I wanted to say— mostly to you, but to other people, too. I wanted to remember things— the good things. Us. I've felt like there was an us ever since I started listening to your radio show. Was there an us? Were we together? Please, Richie, tell me there was an us. Tell me we—" 

 

"There was an us," Richie interrupted. "And we were happy." 

 

Eddie fell silent, contemplating. He twisted the golden ring on his right hand, staring fully into its luster. He took it off and tossed it into the bed of the nearest bamboo plant. 

 

"Eddie—!" Richie protested, but the brunet just held up a hand, shushing him. Richie closed his mouth and fell silent, watching with guilty eyes. 

 

"Tell me how I died," Eddie requested. "Please. And promise me none of it will ever happen again." 

 

Richie's breath hitched, and he let go of Eddie's shoulders, arms going stiff at his sides. He gulped, squeezing his eyes shut and forcing himself to speak. "It tore your arm off the first time. I had gotten caught in the deadlights and you saved me. The second time, I got hurt. Just wasn't fast enough. It got there before me. The third time, Henry Bowers stabbed me, and I was bleeding out next to the well. Didn't even get down there to save you." He drew in a shuddering breath, watching as tears started to spill uncontrollably over Eddie's cheeks. 

 

"The fourth time, Bowers got to you before we could even get down into the system," he choked out. "You died in my arms, begging us not to leave you there. I could have gotten you out, brought you to a hospital, done something, but I—" 

 

"Don't, Rich," Eddie cried, shaking his head. "Don't blame yourself, just—" 

 

"There's more!" Richie interrupted. "God, Eddie, there's more— I can't believe I've let it happen this many times, but I— I just keep fucking up. The fifth time, I did get you out, I was bringing you to a hospital. But I think you died on the way. I didn't want to admit it to myself, because I left you in the back seat, dying, and I fucking talked to you the whole way there as if you were alive." He shook his head, laughing shakily. 

 

"And then there's last time. For me... this was barely over an hour ago." Eddie paled, eyes going wide, and tears continued to spill from them as he held his breath. Richie wrapped his arms around himself, forcing his own tears back. "We were..." he hesitated, then decided to just say what was on his mind. "We were together last time. And I thought, 'Goddamn it, if this isn't the one, I swear I'll kill myself.'"He looked down at his feet, kicking the ground. "But I won't kill myself," he mumbled rather unconvincingly. "Even if we aren't together this time." 

 

"Richie—" 

 

"Don't feel bad, Eds, it's okay." He shrugged, sniffling and looking up this time. Avoiding Eddie's eyes. 

 

"Rich, just listen to me," Eddie said forcefully. Richie finally looked at him, and he was calming himself down, cheeks still glistening with tears, but a determined look in his eyes. "I get you don't want to deal with it," he began carefully, raising his eyebrows, "because it's really hard. But that's what makes it worth it. You fight so much through it all, in the end you realize you actually made it." A small smile crossed his face, and Richie didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. 

 

"You won." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Most of the Losers had lost their appetite upon the confirmation of Stanley's death. Mike proposed their solo walks, and nobody had the energy to disagree. 

 

Don't go anywhere on your own next time, Tozier, or you'll remember everything.

 

Nobody but Richie. 

 

"I don't want to let Eddie go alone," he said immediately after they stepped outside. Everyone threw sympathetic looks his way, and Eddie slunk over to him, fingertips brushing his arm. The rain had stopped. 

 

"It's okay, Rich," he murmured, but Richie shook his head, looking away. 

 

"It's not okay," he insisted. "What if something happens to him earlier this time? What if Henry Bowers goes after him while he's alone?" He laughed humorlessly, grabbing Eddie's arm and pulling him closer. "Nuh-uh." He shook his head again. "Not on my watch." 

 

"This doesn't work if you aren't alone, Rich," Mike said, but he looked guilty. "We weren't all together that summer. We have to remember everything." 

 

"I don't want to," Richie said, and it came out almost as a whimper. Eddie eased his arm out of Richie's grasp, backing away with a furrowed brow. Richie felt the distant itch of a memory— the memory— so close to the surface now that almost nothing held it from resurfacing other than the few remaining threads of his free will. 

 

"Everything, Richie," Mike insisted. "I'm sorry, but that's the way it is." 

 

"No," Richie said, but everyone was starting to walk away. Only Eddie hesitated, staring from a few feet away. "No," Richie repeated, deadpanning. "No, come back. Bill... Ben. Please. Beverly!" He almost keeled over, stumbling towards Eddie, who started to back up himself. "Eddie," Richie said desperately. "Let's go. We can ditch this shithole right now. You and me. Let's hop a train— or a flight. I've got money. Wherever you want to go." 

 

"I'm sorry, 'Chee," Eddie said, keys jingling as he pulled them out of his pocket. "I want this to be over just as much as you do. But I don't want to run away. I already told you. I want to remember us." 

 

"But you'll die if we stay," Richie cried. "I promised I wouldn't let it happen this time." Eddie smiled sadly, steps faltering. 

 

"I shouldn't have asked that of you." He shrugged, looking away. "If I die, Richie," he added, shaking his head, "then I die. You're the one who just can't seem to let it go." With that, he turned and jogged to his car. Richie watched, horrified, as the last of his friends peeled out of the parking lot and down the street. 

 

"So they all ditched you, huh, Funny Boy?" 

 

Richie lowered his head, grimacing. He bit his lip hard, and turned around, looking up into the face of the clown that had made his life a living hell. 

 

"Yup," he agreed, shrugging. "They think that this is an important step. I think it's bullshit. I already remember everything." 

 

"You want to believe that, but you don't," It corrected, grinning. Richie flinched, averting his eyes. The clown reached out and grabbed a fistful of his shirt, lifting him up until his feet left the ground. He didn't struggle. Simply held on, legs swinging limply in the air. 

 

"What are you gonna do with me?" He asked, and for a second, he was almost certain that this was the end— It was going to kill him, and this would be the end of his suffering. Then he saw the strange glint in those amber eyes, and he knew that this was far from over. A little bit of fighting spirit revved back up inside him and he kicked his legs decisively, wriggling in It's grasp. 

 

"I'm going to hand you over to a friend of mine," It said, grinning maliciously. "I think you'll find he's quite good with memories— particularly, traumatizing ones." 

 

Richie's feet touched the ground, and Pennywise disappeared. He brushed doff his shirt, looking down at the ground, and took a deep breath, when suddenly— 

 

"I thought I told you not to go anywhere on your own, Faggot." 

 

There was a dull, throbbing pain in the back of his head. His cheek stung as he fell forward, face scraping the asphalt. Then everything went black. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

There was the faint sensation of being dragged by the legs. 

 

His face burned. 

 

His head pounded. 

 

He went back to sleep. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Derry, 1992

 

 

He was sitting by the bridge— looking at his carving.

 

It was late. Ever since the most recent fight with Bill, he hadn't seen Eddie, or anyone else, for that matter. He missed the stupid asthmatic more than he cared to admit— but he wasn't allowed outside to play

 

('Play', Goddamnit, we're seventeen, for Christ's sake)

 

Richie had tried to ask, but Mrs. K was having none of it. He had barely gotten away with his fingers when she tried to shut the door on them last time— he wasn't sure he was too keen on going back. 

 

He stared at the letters— R + E. 

 

Feelings conflicted in his heart. Did it mean what the rest of the carvings meant? Would he be okay if that was what it meant? Would he be willing to accept that, more so than the rest of the world? 

 

It couldn't be something just he was dealing with— he wasn't the only kid in the world who had a crush on his best friend. 

 

Crush. 

 

The word sent a shiver down his spine, but at the same time, it made his face feel warm and his heart skip a beat. Eddie's face, grouchy, peppered with freckles, and set in a sourpuss frown flashed before his eyes, and he clapped his hand over his cheeks, sure that they must be bright red. 

 

The trudge of approaching footsteps caught him off guard, and he scrambled to his feet, fear leaping into his throat. A nauseating feeling began to squirm in his stomach when he saw who it was. 

 

"What are you carving there, Fag?" Henry Bowers asked, gesturing to the bridge. His eyes gleamed a deep amber— Richie had been in enough of those close-encountered fights with the boy to know for a fact that they were usually blue. His mouth ran dry, and he felt the backs of his legs hit the low-standing bridge's edge. 

 

"Nothing," he answered truthfully, holding out his hands— he hadn't brought anything to carve with. 

 

"Sure thing, Fairy," the bully replied, starring forward. Richie allowed himself to be shoved aside, palms burning when they scraped the pavement. He scooted backwards on his butt, watching with wary eyes as Henry traced the biggest carving in that section. 

 

"R + E?" He asked, head turning, and Richie felt frozen in place by that gaze— those eyes pinned him down where he sat, and his face paled. 

 

"It's not mine—" he started to say. 

 

"Bullshit," Henry interrupted, standing up to his full height and stalking towards Richie, who struggled to his feet and started backing into the darkening tunnel part of the bridge. 

 

Night was breaking— the sun was just about down. It was dark in the tunnel. Nobody ever drove in or out of town at this time. Henry advanced, and Richie backed up further still, fingers grazing the wall as to make sure he stayed in a straight line— there was no telling where there may be a pothole that he could trip on and injure himself before Henry even for the chance. 

 

"I think it's for you and your faggot boyfriend," Henry said, voice echoing gently despite how dangerously quiet it seemed. Richie could see the malicious smile beginning to spread across his face— as though he were illuminated in the darkening space, the dark tunnel, suddenly pitch black and never-ending—

 

Richie ran. He turned and started to run, forgetting all about touching the wall and focusing instead on reaching the other side. Footsteps thundered after him, all he could hear, a maniacal laugh filling his head and fogging his vision. 

 

His heart stopped when his foot thudded down into one of the potholes he had been so worried about and he went flying. 

 

Richie let out a great shout as he flipped over in midair, ankle straining as he was pulled from where he had tripped, landing on his back. Pain flared up his leg and he lay winded, hardly able to draw in the breath that had rushed out of his body. 

 

Panic rising in his stomach, Richie stared up into the indefinite darkness, unable to breathe and unable to bring himself to move until that unforgettable face swam out of the darkness. 

 

"Hiya, Faggot," Henry sneered, and he was all Richie could see in the darkness of the tunnel, all he could feel aside from the solid asphalt against his back. He started to scoot backwards, but a hand slammed down onto his chest, forcing him back against the ground. Richie cried out as his head fell back and struck the pavement— not hard, but hard enough the send a jolt of shock down his spine, and he stiffened as Henry climbed over him, sitting on his hips and holding him into place. 

 

"Get off of me," Richie said, voice breaking. Henry growled inhumanly, and a sudden burning pain flared up in Richie's shoulder. His mouth fell open in a pained cry, and he gagged as some rancid, awful-tasting cloth was stuffed into it, muffling his voice and silencing his screams. True panic began to settle in, and his movements became frantic, erratic. He fought aGainst Henry's hold, thrashing his body, slamming his fists into whatever bit of the teen that he could reach. 

 

Finally, his knuckles collided with something worthwhile— Henry's nose. The teen howled, leaning back, and his hands flew up to clutch his face. Richie took his chance. He placed his hands on Henry's thighs and shoved himself backwards, slithering from underneath him. Tears stung his eyes as he scrambled to his feet, coughing the cloth out of his mouth and spitting as he broke into another run. 

 

For a few hopeful seconds, he thought he could see the end of the tunnel. It isn't supposed to be this long, he thought with rising terror as footsteps and angered howls thundered after him. God, why is it so long?! He reached out and brushed the wall with his fingertips. 

 

Almost there. 

 

A hand closed around the tail-end of his Hawaiian shirt— flapping out behind him as he ran. 

 

God fucking damn it why do I wear these—

 

"I've got you now, Faggot," Henry cried gleefully, yanking him backwards and grabbing him by the back of his neck. His grip was like iron— no human his age could have that sort of grip. Richie's feet left the ground and his glasses deemed to crack and snap as his face collided with the wooden wall of the tunnel. 

 

No. 

 

His brain was moving too fast for him to comprehend. His nose was slowly trickling with some sort of liquid. His cheek stung— had his lenses shattered? He couldn't tell. But he could feel a splinter beginning to dig under the skin in his other cheek as Henry pressed him further still into the wall and then—

 

NONONONONONOPLEASESTOPDONT—

 

Hands pried at the waistband of his jeans and forced them downwards. Richie was screaming now, a metallic taste beginning to fill his mouth as the blood from his nose flowed past his lips. Henry slammed his head against the wall again with a demand for him to shut up, and Richie bit his tongue so hard that it drew blood, falling mostly silent other than the occasional dazed 'stop' or 'please'. 

 

It was like being split in half. 

 

He was pretty sure his screams would have woken up the whole of Derry if it weren't for the hand covering his mouth— when Henry had found the time to put silk gloves on, Richie wasn't sure— but he was too dazed to comprehend the fact that there was already a hand on his neck and on his hip, so where the third one had come from was a little beyond him. 

 

The pain seemed endless, and it only grew. What had started as unbearable became nearly blinding, and Richie was subconsciously aware of the fact that were he not already in pitch-blackness, he wouldn't be able to see anything anyway. His pelvis struck the wall painfully with every strike— because that's what it was, truly, a strike— it was like being impaled with a spear. He was being torn apart from the inside out. 

 

Eventually, his voice disappeared completely, and all he could do was sob as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Every time he even briefly came to, it hurt just that little bit extra. 

 

Please God, make me numb to this pain before I die from it. 

 

Please God, make me numb to this pain even if it means I can never feel my legs again. 

 

Please God, make me— 

 

Something vaguely comprehensible cut through the various grunts and animalistic groans that were being uttered in his semi-conscious ears. 

 

"This is what you wanted, isn't it, Faggot?" Henry was rumbling. Silent tears continued to cut through the blood and soot all over Richie's face, and he couldn't reply. "I thought you liked when boys touched you." His throat burned as he tried to vocalize his sobs, but all that came out was a rush of air. 

 

Please stop—

 

"Maybe it was your fairy boyfriend, then," Henry grunted, and red hazed at the edges of Richie's vision as one particularly rough motion caused further pain to explode throughout his entire body. But his attention was drawn, and he fought the sea of blackness to hear what Henry was saying, though nausea caused him to flicker between wakefulness and unconsciousness. 

 

EddieEddieEddie— 

 

What about Eddie? 

 

"Maybe he's the one who wants it rough like this," Henry hissed, and his breath was hot against the back of Richie's neck, presence looming, threatening, painful. 

 

Don't you dare fucking touch him, Richie wanted to say, but he couldn't move. Henry's movements were stuttering— his hips snapped forward— agony tore through Richie like a set of knives, and he would have screamed if he still had a voice. 

 

Then Henry was gone, and Richie was shuddering, gasping, empty and bare on the dirty paved ground. 

 

And as he lay there, drifting in and out of reality, all he could think about was that this would never happen to his Eds for as long as they both lived. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie woke up the same way he woke up when he was sixteen— vulnerable, terrified, and violated. He wasn't sure what happened every time he was stuck in the past— but his cheek was torn up by the asphalt and his entire body felt like it was on fire, so something must have gone terribly wrong. 

 

He rolled over, leaned his head under the side of the Kissing Bridge, and threw up everything in his stomach— which wasn't much. But the nauseating feeling didn't go away. He drew his knees up to his chest and held his head in his hands, crying softly to himself. 

 

"God, please, just end it," he begged. "I don't care anymore— I just want this to be over. I want to go home." 

 

"This is your home, Funny Boy," It said, stalking out of the shadows. Richie hardly flinched, body still aching, and he wiped his eyes, sniffling pitifully. "Will you chicken out on me this time?" The clown asked, cocking its head to the side. Richie thought about it and hesitated. 

 

"What happens when I die?" He asked faintly, finally meeting It's eyes. They were blue now as he towered over the sitting Richie Tozier in fading daylight. He realized he must have been laying here the whole afternoon— and the freedom that Bowers had gained over his body just made him feel sicker. 

 

"Does it matter?" It asked, offering a hand. Richie perked up, a twisted sort of pleasure at that answer beginning to squirm in the churning pit of his stomach. 

 

"You don't know," he realized aloud, beginning to smirk. "You don't know, and you hate that you don't know." It's grin faded, becoming a much sourer expression. Richie could feel the hatred rolling off of the being in waves. He ignored the gloved hand and got up with much difficulty on his own, body throbbing with phantom pains that had yet to fade from his memory. It practically hissed at him, lip curling. 

 

"Fuck you, too, pal." Richie spat on the ground at the toes of it's pom-pomed shoes, before turning and hobbling away. 

 

Every step felt sort of unreal. The satisfaction of dissing It began to fade, and Richie felt a sense of cold, heavy disbelief begin to settle in his stomach. The nauseating feeling returned. He had to stop a few times and lean against things— much like he now remembered doing on the way home when he was sixteen. 

 

The sun was hanging low in the sky. It was almost dark. Numerous times, Richie thought he heard something behind him— footsteps, a harsh whisper of a laugh, maybe even a threat. But he looked over his shoulder and nothing was there. 

 

He reached the townhouse just as the sun sank below the tree line. The physical pain of his memory had more or less faded, but the violating images, the sounds, the thought of how it had felt— it remained. And it would remain for a very long time. 

 

Richie trudged through the door and lifted his head to stare dully at where his friends were huddled in the bar area. Eddie had a gauze pad taped to his cheek and there was a red spot in the middle of it already, even though it looked fresh. He was covered in whatever disgusting liquid always coated his body when they returned from their solo journeys, and he looked miserable. Mike was missing from their ranks, and Richie knew that he was probably being confronted by Bowers that very second, but he couldn't bring himself to care all that much. 

 

After all, if it weren't for Mike, he wouldn't be here. If it weren't for that damn call he'd be at home right now, blissfully unaware of the horrors of his past. 

 

Sitting at home, maybe relapsing. 

 

Sitting at home, maybe contemplating the same end that Stanley had met, just for different reasons.

 

But fuck, he'd feel younger. 

 

God, we're all so old, Richie thought, closing the door quietly while all of their eyes followed him. Beverly looked pale, and he knew she knew what he had seen. She had seen it too— in the deadlights. He allowed his gaze to drift over all of his friends. None of them had the smile lines near their eyes that every happy person always seemed to get by the time they're thirty. Richie briefly reached up to touch his own skin and felt nothing. 

 

The curse of the comedian. Always making others laugh, but never feeling that spark of joy in his own heart. 

 

Nobody said a word as he made his way over to the staircase, feet dragging along the wooden floor, and heaved himself up the steps. A soft outburst of hushed voices began to swell behind him as he reached his door, pulling his key out of his pocket. He thought he heard Beverly's voice reach a shrill tone as he unlocked the door and walked in, closing it behind him. 

 

Richie leaned against the wooden surface, eyes fluttering shut. His hands began to clench into fists and the growing tidal wave of frustration and terror and hurt burst from his lips in an anguished cry. He slammed his head back against the door, turning and punching the wall, before stumbling back and clutching his pulsing fist with an agonized sob. 

 

He felt restless— his skin was too tight— it was crawling. It didn't belong to him. He felt dirty. He needed to do something, to go somewhere. Anything. Forget. Erase it. He didn't want to remember. Make it go away. 

 

He began to pace, heartbeat quickening, and he heard footsteps ascending the stairs. 

 

Eddie. 

 

"Go away!" He shouted before anyone could even think to knock. "Go away, Eddie!" 

 

There was a moment of silence. Then, soft, concerned: "It's Bev. Can I come in, Richie?" 

 

He hesitated. He wanted to say no. He wanted to say, No, that's okay, Marsh. I'm fine. I'll be out in a little while. But he knew that she would know that was a lie. They both did. He wasn't fine— and if she went away, Richie might never leave this room again. 

 

Not while I'm alive, anyway. 

 

The thought, sudden and morbid, scared him. This was what It wanted. He wasn't too keen on letting It win, but at this point, he wasn't sure what else was left for him. Eddie was going to die anyway— and Richie has nothing left to live for without him. 

 

He walked over and opened the door anyway. Bev would understand if he needed to talk about this. She always understands. 

 

He looked down at her, and she looked up at him. 

 

"Oh my God," she said. Then she hugged him. Richie held her back just as tightly— maybe even tighter. He hunched down, and it was like he was trying to bury himself in her embrace, hold on and never let go. He felt the tears returning, thick and hot, and her hair began to stick to his face as he pushed it into her neck, shoulders trembling under her arms. 

 

"Shhh," she soothed desperately, rubbing small circles on his back. "I know, sweetheart. I know." He felt like he was suffocating— hiccuping, gasping for breath, he found no relief. Bev started to push forward against him, and he moved back, allowing her to shut the door and return to him, cool cheek pressed against his red and blotchy face. 

 

"I can't—" he choked, chest heaving. "I— Bev, I—" 

 

"Don't think, Richie, just let it out," she advised, and he did, sobbing openly into her, leaving his shattered heart on display for her and only her to see. "There you go," she whispered in his ear, and he finally felt air begin to fill his lungs as he drew in a shuddering breath. The walls were thin— the others could surely hear him— and for a moment, he allowed himself to be carefree. It didn't matter to him. 

 

But then he started to calm himself, and he managed to stand up straight, taking deep, relaxing breaths. And his face, already red from crying, became red for other reasons. 

 

"God, I'm a fucking wreck," he muttered, voice hoarse and crackly. Bev pulled away and looked up at him with a sad smile, wiping his cheeks with her thumbs and cupping his face. 

 

"You needed that," she said. "You know you did. And this isn't the end of it, either." 

 

"I know," he whispered, gaze trailing down towards his feet. "God, do I know." 

 

They stood in silence for a few moments, and during this time, Bev took his hands, squeezing them. She looked down, red hair hanging like a curtain around her face so he couldn't see her expression. But when she sniffled, Richie knee that she was crying, too. 

 

"Fuck, Rich," she said, finally looking up and revealing tear-soaked cheeks. "All this time, we thought the worst thing he did was break Eddie's arm, or kill Mr. Pickles. But it wasn't." 

 

"It's not that bad—" Richie started to say, but she stomped her foot. 

 

"You shut up, Richie Tozier!" She shouted, a sudden deadly venom in her eyes. "You shut the fuck up and listen here. I don't know what you think is going on here— but he raped you, Rich!" She was nearing hysterics, hands trembling almost as much as her voice. "He—He took something from you that can never be given back. He took your life force! I knew something was off around that time— I knew it— but I never said anything. Why didn't I ask you if you were okay, or offer to talk about things that were on our minds, or—" 

 

"Beverly," Richie interjected, grabbing her shoulders, and she looked up at him with wide, horrified eyes. He frowned deeply, then said, "You can't tell anyone." 

 

"Of course not," she murmured distantly. "No, of course I won't tell anyone." 

 

"Not even Eddie," Richie said, an underlying warning in his voice, and she flinched, averting her eyes. 

 

"Not even Eddie," she agreed faintly, though Richie wasn't so sure he believed her. He still didn't say anything. Bev stood before him, wiping her cheeks and then pulling a box out of her back pocket. She offered it to him. 

 

"Smoke?" 

 

"Thanks." He took one and put it between his lips, holding it as steadily as he could so she could light it with her shaking fingers. She lit her own, and they somehow ended up wandering over to the door, sitting against the wood. Shoulder to shoulder, they stared at the dark window, all traces of light gone from the sky. 

 

"Do you think the stars will be out tonight?" She whispered, head falling down to rest against his shoulder. Richie took a long drag and held it in until he thought he would have to cough— then exhaled, looking at the black square in the wall. 

 

"If they were, would you wish on them?" He asked instead of answering. She thought about it for a moment, and another puff of smoke joined the dispersed remnants of his own. 

 

"Fuck yeah," she whispered. Then, "That this was a normal reunion." A soft bubble of laughter. "And we were all happy." She lifted her head to look at him, brows furrowing. "You?" Richie frowned, closing his eyes and shaking his head. 

 

"I don't know, Bev. At this point, the only wish I've really got left is that It would kill me, instead." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Bev reluctantly excused herself an hour or so later at Richie's request, closing the door not without a lasting look of concern and sadness. 

 

"It gets better, Rich," she had said, and he had seen the momentary flash of 'me too' in her eyes that made his blood boil as images of her dad and a man with a question mark for a face who he knew to be her husband swam in and out of his vision. She had left before he could say anything, but he let the feeling of fury brew in his stomach, because it was better than the nauseating terror that was still trying to overwhelm him from his own experiences. 

 

Richie looked down at his knuckles, bruised and slightly bloody from his strike against the wall. He took a deep breath and shook his head, glancing at the clock. 8:43 P.M. stared back at him in big red font. He felt strangely awake— and the thought of going to sleep, leaving himself vulnerable, was suddenly the most tasteless thought he'd had in a while. He walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower— scalding hot. It began to steam up the small room almost immediately. He took his glasses off, running his fingers along the frames, looking down at them and feeling a momentary twinge of nostalgia. 

 

He allowed himself a few seconds of peace— his friends, in their youthful years, smiling the way they ought to. Eddie's face, clear as crystal, the first time Richie saw him as anything other than a blur. And he remembered thinking, He's cute. The thought stuck with him longer than he knew it should— soon it became the epicenter of his anxieties. And yet, every time the sassy brunet entered his field of vision, everything felt just a little bit better. 

 

Eddie's adolescent face, cheeks not quite having thinned out completely yet even at age thirteen, a deep-set scowl on his lips. Probably scolding Richie for something stupid he did. And suddenly Richie was there. Eddie was talking, but he wasn't really listening— he was just staring at him, a stupid smile on his face, and all he could think was, You are the most beautiful thing in my life. I would be dead without you. You are the only thing that makes me happy, and you're right there, and I'm right here, and God, you are beautiful. I love you. I love you, and I want you to know how much I love you. So much that it's scary. Terrifying, really. But at the same time, it is so, so sweet. Because when you smile, my heart flutters— and when you laugh, it melts. You're right there, and I'm right here, and I am in love with you. 

 

And of course, instead of saying those things, he had made some wise comment that just set Eddie off further. Richie knew he had never truly opened up— and perhaps that was why he left, though that was the memory, the only remaining one, that was still a bit hazy. He had snippets. 

 

Do you love me? 

 

He shook his head in a futile attempt to clear it. The mirror was completely fogged up and he had been standing lost in thought for minutes at a time now. He shed his clothes and stepped under the scalding water, hissing as it touched his damaged knuckles. 

 

He soaped his body with shaking hands and experienced what Bev had meant when she said 'And this isn't the end of it, either'. Tears, not quite as hot as the water, but still warm, slid down his cheeks, and how he still had any left to shed was beyond Richie, but he scrubbed himself raw, skin becoming an angry red color. Then he stood under the steady stream, turning his face upwards so it hit him straight on. Fragments kept replaying in his head, and he exhaled. The liquid flow from his eyes slowed, and after a few minutes, the only moisture left came from the shower head. 

 

Skin burning, knuckles throbbing and swollen, and head clearing, Richie turned the water off. He got out and toweled himself off, standing in front of the mirror and waiting for it to clear. 

 

It took a long time, and he stood there, waiting with little on his mind. When his reflection became crisp and clear, he stared at himself. His hair was wild as ever— sticking up at random and still wet. His cheeks were red and raw, but he could see a few freckles peeking through the angry blush. His eyes were bloodshot and held heavy purple bags beneath them. The lids felt heavy. He could see his own anguish in his gaze. Mouth set in a deep frown, he turned away and walked back into his room. 

 

It was 9:25 at night now. Completely dark outside. He kicked his suitcase open and put on boxers, pajama pants, and another t-shirt. This one was an older one— not quite his teenage years, those wouldn't fit anymore, but close. It was grey with some band on it. Probably got it to impress someone knowledgeable about music. Richie thought of his Walkman and smiled a little. 

 

He had always preferred oddities, anyway. 

 

He dug around in his backpack, untouched since the ride from the airport what seemed like years ago, and found his earbuds. He plugged them into his phone and opened the music app, scrolling to the bottom of his playlists until he found the oldest one. 

 

He had forgotten why he made this after fighting to keep the memory for years. But it was the one he listened to most often. He clicked the 'shuffle' button, and the same tune that he had danced to all those dozens of hours ago began to trickle into his ears. 

 

"What would you think if I told you I've always wanted to hold you?" He hummed to himself, swaying as he glided around the empty room. He felt a little bit crazy, but he figured, what else was new? If he wasn't crazy yet, he would be soon. The sudden desire to find the nearest dealer and go artificially crazy struck him for the first time in the last three years of his sobriety and he almost choked on the next lyrics. 

 

"I don't know what we're afraid of," he mumbled. "Nothing would change if we made love." And then he laughed nervously, the desire fading as the first round of the song's chorus swelled in his ears. Had Eddie really put this on his mixtape? And they kept dancing around each other, after a statement like that? Richie shook his head, and the laughter came more naturally after that. He scrolled through the rest of the songs, and almost all of them had to be some sort of confession. He had the thought that maybe he and Eddie had been dating before he even knew it— and grinned. Damn it, Eddie, you should have told me! 

 

Giddy and feeling like a teenage girl, Richie flopped back onto his bed, letting the music surround him. Every new song just made the flames of desire grow underneath him. He watched the minutes tick by, a sort of euphoria enveloping him by the time the third song came to an end and the fourth started. He was almost asleep by the time the last one faded out and the room fell silent. 

 

Richie lay there in a limbo, stuck between sleep and wakefulness, at ease for the first time that night. 

 

And he dragged his tired hands up to click play on the playlist again. 

 

The music began, quiet and calming. 

 

With a ghost of a smile causing his lips to twitch and his heart to flutter, Richie fell asleep. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

—A hand closed around the tail-end of his Hawaiian shirt— flapping out behind him as he ran—

 

—"I've got you now, Faggot—!"

 

—NONONONONONOPLEASESTOPDONT— 

 

—shuddering, gasping, empty and bare on the dirty paved ground— 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie woke up screaming. 

 

He flew up, sat rigidly, breaths tearing in and out of his body as he stared around the dark room wildly. Light trickled in faintly from the bathroom. One earbud had fallen out and the music had long since stopped. He pulled the other one from his ear and looked at his phone. 

 

It was 2:46 in the morning. His battery was at 24%. He forced himself up onto shaking legs and stumbled over to the bedside table, grabbing at the charging cord. He missed the port a few times, cursing himself under his breath, then his screen lit up with the indication that his phone was charging. He put the device down, and nearly jumped out of his skin when there was a knock on his door. He stared at it over his shoulder for a second, wary and cautious. Bowers was still out and about. 

 

He slunk over, cracked it open, and peered out into the hallway, squinting. His eyes were struggling to adjust, and what's worse, he wasn't wearing his glasses. "Hello?" He whispered, and his voice was hoarse, barely there. 

 

"Richie?" Someone whispered back, and despite the rough sleep that made their voice scratchy, he immediately knew who it was. "Are you okay, 'Chee? I heard you scream. I came right away." 

 

Guilt began to stir in Richie's stomach and he opened the door further, frowning. "Did I wake you up?" 

 

"It's no big deal," Eddie assured him, and although he was just a dark blur, Richie saw his head tilt slightly. "I just wanted to check on you." A slight pause, and then, "What happened to your hand?" Cool, slender fingers gently grasped his palm, and Richie was confused for a minute. Then the pads of Eddie's fingertips brushed his knuckles and they stung slightly, and he hissed, remembering his unfriendly encounter with the wall. 

 

"I'm fine," he said through gritted teeth, moving to draw his hand back, but Eddie clutched it tightly. "Really, Eds. You can go back to sleep. I'm sorry I woke you." 

 

"Can you come over?" Eddie blurted our. "Like, right now? You didn't... You didn't wake me up. I can't sleep. I think it's the walk today. I can't... I keep thinking about it. This will give me something else to think about." 

 

Richie realized he had never actually asked Eddie what he saw when they went off on their own. The guilt began to grow, and he mentally scolded himself. What kind of friend was he? Eddie always worried about him afterwards, took care of him if he got hurt, and here Eddie was, a bandage on his cheek and trauma on his mind. And Richie never even thought to talk to him about it. 

 

"Okay," he finally agreed. Eddie exhaled sharply, and Richie could feel his relief. He allowed the brunet to guide him out into the hallway, and the wooden floor was cold under his bare feet as they padded across to the next door room together, Eddie clutching Richie's injured hand delicately in his own. He fumbled with his key and unlocked the door, closing it again behind them, and brought Richie into the bathroom, flipping on the lights. He stopped dead in his tracks and sighed, turning back around, and he was much closer than Richie had expected him to be. 

 

"I don't have the things I need to bandage your hand," he mumbled, and for a minute he sounded so defeated that Richie's heart throbbed. He reached up with his uninjured hand and touched Eddie's cheek, breathless as the brunet pushed his face into the palm of his hand. 

 

"It's okay," he whispered. "I'm fine." 

 

"I'm not," Eddie said, and his voice had raised an octave, breath hitching. His eyes were glistening with unsend tears. Richie drew him closer, pressing his lips to the man's forehead. "It was awful, 'Chee. I couldn't— I wasn't fast enough." 

 

"I know the feeling," Richie murmured against his skin, wrapping his arms more fully around the brunet and curling his fingers into the hair at the base of the man's neck. Eddie's face found its way into Richie's neck, and they stood like that for a few minutes, breathing together. He felt Eddie's heartbeat against his own chest, and it began to sync with his own, slowing to match his pace. 

 

You're alive. You're alive, and right now, you're mine. 

 

"I love you," he said before he could stop himself, and Eddie stiffened in his arms. Alarms began to blare in Richie's head, and he started to pull away, but then Eddie was hugging him tighter, rubbing his cheek into his shoulder fiercely and gripping the back of his shirt in his fists. 

 

"I love you, too," the man said in a soft whisper. "I think I always did." 

 

The words bounced around in Richie's brain. 

 

An echo of the past. 

 

He took a deep breath and stepped away, although Eddie didn't seem to want to let him go. 

 

"I used to say stupid things when I was really thinking about how much I wanted to tell you how beautiful I thought you were," he admitted. Eddie regarded him with careful eyes, confusion leaking into his expression. 

 

"What do you mean?" He asked. 

 

"Just..." Richie laughed a little, scratching at the back of his neck awkwardly. "Earlier tonight I had this memory. Only, it was like I was really there, you know? You were scolding me." His smile grew as the image started to return and he remembered the exact words he had been thinking. 

 

"You were so mad— I don't remember what I did. But all I could think was, 'You are the most beautiful thing in my life. I would be dead without you. You are the only thing that makes me happy, and you're right there, and I'm right here, and God, you are beautiful.'" Eddie was staring at him, mouth slightly opened, and although he was blurry, Richie could tell his eyes were shocked. Richie continued, cheeks becoming warm. "'I love you. I love you, and I want you to know how much I love you. So much that it's scary. Terrifying, really. But at the same time, it is so, so sweet. Because when you smile, my heart flutters— and when you laugh, it melts. You're right there, and I'm right here, and I am in love with you.'" 

 

"You really thought that?" Eddie asked, arms curling around himself. His cheeks were pink. 

 

"Yeah," Richie said, shrugging uncomfortably. "A lot, actually." 

 

"You thought I was beautiful?" Eddie checked, and his cheeks got even darker when Richie nodded, watching him with anxious eyes. "Why?" He asked incredulously, suddenly insecure. "I wasn't— I was just a scrawny little kid. Nothing special about me." 

 

"Are you kidding me, Eds?" Richie asked, and the brunet made a face at the nickname. "You were— you are— adorable. Did you hear everything I said? Your smile made me feel like I could fly. The way your face would get all red when you were mad, or embarrassed— but I could see all of your freckles anyway. The way you did your hair every day, and it was always the same— unless you woke up late, or we were having a sleepover, and you had bed head. It always looked so soft and messy." He couldn't stop smiling, especially when Eddie averted his eyes, covering his mouth to conceal what Richie hoped was a smile of his own. 

 

"I still think you're beautiful, Eddie," he insisted. "And I don't care if that's not the most manly word— it's how I feel. You take my breath away." 

 

"Why didn't you ever tell me that was what you were thinking?" Eddie asked, furrowing his brow. 

 

"It was the eighties, Eds," Richie pointed out. "People got shunned for being queer— maybe even killed." Or worse. "We had a good run— but I was still terrified to tell you too much." 

 

"Is that why you left me behind?" 

 

The words stabbed Richie straight in the heart and he took a step back, smile fading into a sour expression. He looked down at his swollen knuckles, frowning deeply and dragging out the silence. Eddie waited, and Richie knew he was expecting an answer. He couldn't just ignore the question. 

 

But he would try anyway. 

 

"You wanna take a ride to the drugstore?" He asked, changing the subject. "We can get supplies for my hand. And it'll keep you busy." Eddie frowned at him, and Richie knew he was being stupid. But truthfully— he couldn't remember why he had left. When Eddie didn't as wear right away, he closed his eyes and said so. "I can't remember why I left," he said truthfully. "But I do remember that I regretted it with every fiber of my being. Every day of my life. Even after I couldn't remember what I regretted so much." 

 

"Okay," Eddie said. He looked convinced— or, at least, he sounded it. He was still mostly a blob. "You wanna get yourself some shoes and a jacket?" Richie sighed, nodded his head, and they shuffled out of the room. 

 

And as they descended the stairs, shoulder to shoulder, not speaking but somehow still sharing the moment, he thought that this was better than being alone. 

 

Even if he knew that he would be once again in a few hours time. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

The drugstore was closed, so they had putted around for a while— 

 

Or, Eddie putted around while Richie picked the lock. 

 

The rush of walking into a store and walking out without any human interaction was one he had long forgotten. He thought it might feel more exciting if there were actually cameras, or if he weren't stealing bandage wrap, but still. Eddie did not approve of this tactic, but Richie insisted that it was fine— "I'm a professional, Eds,"— and they were on their way again after he exited with bandages in hand. 

 

Off a random spurt of energy, he had doubled back and taken a chocolate bar, much to Eddie's dismay, but he hadn't revealed the fact until they were well on their way back to the townhouse. Now he poked a square of chocolate at Eddie's pursed lips while the man tried to concentrate on wrapping his fist in bandages, amusing himself with the flicker of annoyance in the brunet's eyes. 

 

He pushed his glasses up his nose and used his thumb to drag Eddie's lower lip down, prying it away from the upper. He stifled a surprised shriek when the brunet snapped at his thumb, pretending to try and bite it. 

 

"Leave me alone!" Eddie said, and Richie didn't touch his face again after that, though he was still tempted. 

 

He had eaten half of the chocolate bar himself by the time Eddie finished with his hand and sat back against the bathroom door. Richie noticed for the first time in a while how exhausted his friend looked. He scooted off of the toilet seat and sat against the wall across from the man, watching him with wide eyes. Eddie looked back, eyebrows knit together, and he looked so sad. 

 

"How are you, Rich?" He asked. "I mean really. Are you going to be okay?" 

 

"You mean, am I going to be okay if you die again?" Richie guessed, tossing a square of chocolate at him. Eddie caught it and nibbled at the corner, looking down guiltily. Richie sighed, stretching his legs out, and Eddie draped one of his own on top of Richie's right knee, reaching out and grabbing his socked foot. 

 

"I guess so," Eddie confirmed, shrugging and still not meeting Richie's eyes. 

 

"I don't know," Richie answered honestly. "I guess I have to be, or else It wins. But if I fail this time, I only have two more chances to save you." 

 

"Are you scared?" 

 

It was soft, hardly a whisper. Eddie finally met his eyes, and he looked like he was trying so hard to be brave, not to let the fear trickle into his expression. I know you, Eds, Richie thought sadly. 

 

"Yes," he told him. "I'm terrified. I lived without you once. I didn't even know what I was missing, and I fell apart. I can't do that again." Eddie nodded, face pale, and he seemed satisfied with that answer. He poked at Richie's foot, and they sat in silence, Richie giving him a new piece of chocolate every time he finished one until there was none left. Eddie checked his watch and showed him. It was approaching 4:00 in the morning. 

 

"Do you think we should try to sleep?" The brunet asked miserably. He looked reluctant— but he looked exhausted, too. Richie pulled his foot away and started to get up, offering his uninjured hand. Eddie took it, and Richie pulled him up, but didn't let go, lacing their fingers together. He turned the light off in the bathroom and led Eddie over to the bed. He sat down with his back against the headboard, then patted the space beside him. Eddie climbed onto the mattress, pulled the covers up over himself, but instead of settling beside Richie, he put his head in the man's lap. 

 

Sighing, Richie threaded his fingers into Eddie's hair, expecting the remains of the product that kept it so perfect to make it a little stiff, but he must have taken a shower, because it was soft to the touch. The man sighed as Richie started to massage his scalp, working his fingers against Eddie's skin, pushing his hair out of his forehead and dragging his fingers through it gently. 

 

"Are you okay?" He asked after a while. His movements had slowed, and he almost thought Eddie was asleep. But then the man shifted, reaching up and grabbing one of Richie's hands to press his cheek into his palm. Richie leaned down and kissed Eddie's forehead, then his nose, then paused near his lips. It was like he was upside down-  and the thought made him smile— but he hesitated until Eddie gripped his cheeks and pulled him into the kiss that they had both been waiting for. 

 

It was a little bit awkward— Eddie's nose mashed against Richie's chin— but neither of them cared. Richie pulled away after a brief moment, eyes closed. Eddie's breath hit his face in a rush. 

 

"Not really," he finally answered. "I went to the drugstore. I remembered the day when I heard my mom there— in the basement. So I went down to look for her. She was all bound up in this disgusting torture chamber and the leper was in chains, but it was about to reach her and I had to get her untied." Richie peppered his face with kisses, caressing his cheeks. Eddie sighed, gripping his hands tightly. "I wasn't fast enough," he said. "That's what I meant when I said that earlier. I had to leave her behind." 

 

"It wasn't your fault," Richie whispered. "It wasn't real, anyway— but you were brave to even try, Eds." 

 

"Nah," Eddie scoffed. "Not brave enough to finish it. I left my own mother to die." 

 

"She deserved it," Richie countered. Eddie hesitated. 

 

"Yeah," he said then. "She did." 

 

They remained quiet again for a few moments, then Eddie was sitting up. He turned, climbing into Richie's lap and connecting their lips once again. Richie lifted his hands, both bandaged and uninjured, placing them on the man's waist. He let his head rest against the wall, relishing the feeling of Eddie's hands, cool against his burning cheeks as they kissed in the concealed darkness of the room, silent except for their soft gasps as the briefly parted before slotting together once more. 

 

"I want to kiss you for all the years I never could," Eddie murmured against his mouth. 

 

"That's gay," Richie grunted. 

 

"Really?" Eddie asked, feigning surprise. "I thought this was a no homo thing we had going on— you know, just bros being bros. No?" 

 

"No," Richie agreed. "I'm very homosexual. I'm very homosexual and I want you to kiss me again like there's no tomorrow." Because for us, there might not be. 

 

Eddie giggled, but he did it anyway, and Richie lost himself in the moment while they had it. Eddie's hands wandered, and there was a prickle for discomfort in the back of Richie's mind when they got a bit too close to the waistband of his pajama pants, but he tried to ignore it. 

 

This is Eddie. It's fine. He won't hurt you. 

 

But it returned, persistent, especially when Eddie's fingertips found access under his shirt and traced the skin on his stomach. Richie broke the kiss, a shuddering gasp wracking his body as it seized up. 

 

"What?" Eddie asked, hands flying back as if he had burned himself. "What's wrong?" 

 

"Nothing, I just—" Richie blinked, shaking his head. He couldn't lie. Not to Eddie. "It's just..." He covered his face with his hands, heart beginning to pound. "The thing I remembered earlier," he said, voice muffled by his palms. "Henry Bowers. He found out I was gay, and he—" he broke off. The words were so much harder to say than they were to hear. His heart leaped into his throat. The sudden stillness from his partner told him that he was understood, but he knew he needed to say it. This was something that had to be accepted. 

 

"It's alright, 'Chee," Eddie whispered, and his fingertips brushed Richie's cheeks, never returning to his torso. "You can tell me. I'm here." 

 

"He r—" Richie choked, and Eddie gripped his face gently, pushing his curls out of his eyes and hushing him softly. "He r—" 

 

"Take your time," Eddie soothed, and Richie clutched the man's wrist tightly, trying to steady himself. He took a deep breath, blinked unshed tears from his eyes, and swallowed thickly. 

 

"I was on the Kissing Bridge," he said, shocked at how steady his voice came out. So he continued. "He found me there... and I don't think he was really himself. I think it was It. But it was dark out, and he found me there, and he just— he just had his way with me. I was sixteen, Christ almighty—" 

 

"Okay, Rich," Eddie whispered. "You're okay now. Look at me, yeah?" And through the darkness, Richie met Eddie's eyes, felt his hands on his cheeks, cool and grounding, pulling him back to the present. To reality. Eddie smiled sadly. 

 

"I'm okay," Richie agreed, and Eddie nodded. He drew Richie closer, arms going around his neck, and hugged him. Richie wrapped his arms around Eddie's torso in return, inhaling deeply and allowing himself the pleasure of getting lost in the faint scent of vanilla, and— he could still detect a hint of whatever medical supplies he had put on his knuckles. 

 

I'm home, he thought, eyes sliding shut. 

 

I'm home. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

They must have fallen asleep at some point, because Richie woke up slumped on his side with his glasses mushed uncomfortably against his face and a warm heaviness draped over his body. 

 

Eddie was still sitting on him, but as they had keeled over, he slid off a little bit— he still had one leg hooked around Richie's waist, and an arm over his shoulders, but other than that, he was simply burrowed into Richie's chest, face hidden. 

 

The taller man was momentarily afraid that he wasn't breathing— that was how deeply his face was embedded in his chest— but then Eddie moved a little bit, and his face pulled back, and his breath fanned over Richie's cheeks. Then his eyes fluttered open. 

 

"You're beautiful," was the first thing Richie said. Something he had thought a million times, but never been able to say out loud— until that morning, before the sun had even come up. And now it felt okay. It felt okay to say it out loud and to see the way it caused a smile to tug at his partner's lips. 

 

"No I'm not," Eddie protested, but Richie kissed his nose, and shushed him. 

 

"You are," he insisted. Eddie didn't answer, but his smile grew. And Richie knew that he had been his since the moment Eddie left his ring at the restaurant. Or since the moment they woke up together on New Year's morning in 1993. Maybe even since the day the clumsy little brown-eyed boy crashed his bike outside Richie's house. 

 

He thought of what the day's events were going to consist of, and his warm, fuzzy feeling faded. Eddie saw, and his smile saddened. 

 

"What are you thinking about?" The brunet whispered. Richie pursed his lips. 

 

"Last time you died," he began, swallowing thickly, "It was aiming for me. But I didn't know it. So I grabbed you and turned us around, thinking it would stab me instead— and it went straight through you." The memory of how it felt when Eddie's life faded from their momentarily shared consciousness flickered in and out of his mind, and he closed his eyes as Eddie lay a hand on his cheek, brushing his thumb along his freckled skin. 

 

"That's not your fault, 'Chee," he murmured. "Don't let It control you. We can be ready this time." 

 

"Would you come home with me if we got out of there alive?" Richie asked him softly, opening his eyes. 

 

"Yes," Eddie said immediately, and Richie was surprised by the lack of hesitation. "Without a doubt. To hell with the company, to hell with Myra. I can't lose this again." 

 

"Really?" Richie could cry. He didn't, but he could have. Eddie giggled, pulling his glasses off so he could rest his head more comfortably against the mattress, and nodded. 

 

"'Course, Rich. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me." 

 

"Oh, honey, you have no idea," Richie muttered cheekily, snickering as Eddie smacked his shoulder. "Ow, hey, I was just kidding." 

 

"Whatever, asshole," Eddie said, cheeks reddening. But he was smiling. 

 

"We should get up soon," Richie mumbled, reaching over Eddie's shoulder and fumbling over the end table before he realized that his phone was still charging in his room. He groaned, and started to roll away, ignoring Eddie's reluctant whine of protest as he pulled out of his grasp. 

 

"I don't want to go," Eddie complained. 

 

"Neither do I, Eds, but we've got to suck it up, because we can't exactly just leave." He headed to the door, glanced over his shoulder, and blew a kiss. Eddie stuck his tongue out. Richie placed a hand over his heart, feigning hurt, and paused. His gaze flirted over the opened window— he had the brief thought that it had been closed before they fell asleep. Then left, shuffling into his own room. He picked his phone up and surveyed the barrage of missed texts, raising his eyebrows. 

 

He slid up, dialing Bev's number, and held the phone to his ear. She picked up almost immediately, and he said, "Hey. What's going on? Why do I have so many notifications—?" 

 

"Richie, it's Mike," she interrupted tearfully, and he could hear her shuddering breaths as she cried on the other end. Horrible realization settled into Richie's stomach and his stomach twisted. 

 

"What?" He asked faintly, grip faltering on the device. 

 

"It's Mike," she said again, followed by a choked sob. "He's in the hospital. We're here with him." 

 

"What the fuck?" Richie cried, but Bev continued, interrupting him. 

 

"Henry tried to kill him, and we think he's coming back to finish Eddie next."  

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie had never moved so fast in his life. 

 

His phone hit the floor, and he thought he heard it crack, but he was already out the door and thundering down the hall. 

 

"Eddie!" He shouted, pounding his fists against the door. "Eddie, open the door, open it now—" 

 

There was a thud from the other side of the door and Richie felt his heart stop for a split second. There was a muffled scream. He backed up, then ran at the door. Pain exploded in his shoulder as he collided with the wooden barrier. It didn't open. 

 

"Richie!" Eddie's voice screeched again from inside the room, and the panic was really starting to settle in now. He back Ed up again, bracing himself, and slammed into the door again. There was no way this old wood was holding against his entire body weight, but once again, it didn't budge, and he felt his shoulder ache dully, beginning to bruise. There wasn't even a splintering crack. 

 

"Hold on!" He shouted. "I'm coming, I'm—"

 

He tried to think fast. He could run down and get the spare key— but that would take too long. Suddenly, the solution popped into his head. 

 

The fire escape. 

 

He ran back into his room and threw the window open, clambering out into the wooden stairwell, turning and getting an idea of how far Eddie's window was from the edge. It was wide open, and everything was blatantly obvious as the pieces began to connect in his head. 

 

Henry had gotten in while they were sleeping. He waited for Richie to leave— and then he struck. 

 

Eddie's screams continued to flood from the open window. Richie looked down over the edge at the asphalt, several feet down, and took a deep breath. It was almost laughable how unafraid he was. Some part of him seemed to know he would make it— he simply had to, and that was all there was to it. He clambered over the raining on the side of the fire escape, heart thudding in his chest, and tensed his muscles. 

 

Come on, Rich. You can do this. He's right through that window. 

 

Richie wound himself up, then launched himself towards the window. For a fleeting second, he hung, suspended in midair, and he thought, I'm not going to make it. Then pain exploded in his arms as they were jarred against the edge of the windowsill, and he was holding on for dear life, beginning to slide backwards. 

 

"I'm— Im slipping!" He shrieked. "Eddie, I'm slipping, I'm—" Hands slammed down and grasped his wrists, hauling him up and through the window. He struggled to help, wriggling through the space, and collapsed onto the floor. He sat up, whirling around to see Eddie with an ashy grey face. He was clutching at his side. His shirt was covered in blood. There was a knife on the ground a few feet away, and someone was breaking through the bathroom door, screaming bloody murder. 

 

"Richie, we have to go," Eddie said. "Quick, before he gets out—" One particularly loud slam that had a few splinters of wood flying from the door cut him off, and he flinched. Richie got to his feet, grabbing at Eddie and ushering him towards the exit. He slammed the door shut behind them and dragged Eddie towards the stairs just as he heard a door slam opened behind them. 

 

"Hurry," he ushered Eddie towards the exit as the next door flew opened. They ran outside, slamming the door behind them and Richie opened the passenger door for Eddie, closing it so fast that he almost shut it on his fingers. He heard Henry storming out of the building and his heart leaped into his throat as he hurried around the van, climbing into the driver's seat. He got the keys out of the visor and started the car, locking the doors just as Henry slammed his hands down onto the hood. 

 

"Go!" Eddie screamed as the maniac started to climb towards their windshield, knife in hand, grinning like a lunatic. Richie stepped on it, and for a terrifying moment, the vehicle stalled— then it lurched forward, and he jerked the wheel to the left, peeling out of the parking lot. Henry flew to the right as the car turned, momentum carrying him over the side, and with nothing to hold on to he slid off the edge. Richie threw the van into reverse and slammed on the gas, hardly blinking as the car bumped up and down over something solid on the ground. Something popped under the tires— Eddie shrieked at the feeling— then Richie shifted into gear and turned down the street, mentally thinking a God that there was nobody out and about in Derry that morning as he flew through lights and stop signs. 

 

"Where the fuck are we going?!" Eddie cried as Richie flashed past the 'Leaving Derry, ME' sign a mere five minutes later and continued down the road, only tearing his gaze away to look at where Eddie was clutching his stomach. 

 

"To the hospital," Richie said through gritted teeth. "Mike is there. Bowers got him, too. And you need to get help." 

 

"I'm fine—" Eddie started to say, but Richie slammed his hands on the steering wheel. 

 

"No!" He shouted. "Don't argue with me, Eddie. For the love of God, do not argue with me right now." The man fell silent, and when Richie looked over at him, he saw the pain and fear in his eyes and pale face. Anxiety and fear kept Richie adrenalized. He kept just above the speed limit, and they didn't see a single car on the highway as they headed for the hospital. He gripped the wheel tightly, palms sweaty, heart still pounding with nerves and horrible 'what if's flooding through his head. 

 

They pulled into the ER parking lot in record time. Richie didn't bother taking the keys out of the ignition when he stopped the car, and he saw Eddie reach over to take them as he clambered out, hurrying around to help the brunet out of the car. 

 

"I can walk fine, you dipshit," Eddie complained, but Richie helped him anyway, one hand covering the one Eddie had clasped to his side and the other supporting him by the waist. 

 

"Help!" Richie shouted as soon as they were within the doors of the hospital. "Help, he's been stabbed! Someone help!" 

 

Eddie was torn from his grasp mere moments later, and he had to forcefully remind himself that these are doctors and they are here to help. They're going to help him. Relax. Go find the others. 

 

And he just stood there, watching them usher his horrified friend away, brown eyes huge and filled with unspeakable amounts of terror. And Richie tried to say with his eyes, It's okay. I'll be here when you get back. 

 

But deep down, he knew that he looked just as scared as he felt. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Bev found him before he found her. 

 

Richie had not moved from his spot in the entrance of the ER since the doctors had taken Eddie away. His phone continued to buzz off and on in his pocket. People looked at him where they sat waiting for news themselves. A few doctors offered to show him to a more comfortable waiting area. But Richie refused, remaining rooted to the spot, staring at the doors Eddie had disappeared behind. 

 

Bev had showed up after about a half an hour. She had keys in one hand and her phone to her ear, but she stopped dead in her tracks upon seeing Richie, Eddie's blood on his hands and shirt, feet bare, face white as a sheet, staring dully at the doors as doctors came and went. 

 

"Richie, thank God!" She cried, hurrying over and throwing her arms around his neck. "I was just about to go looking for you— where's Eddie?" She pulled back and looked at him when he didn't move to return her embrace. He stared at the doors. He hardly registered the fact that she was talking to him. Her face blocked his vision, but he seemed to stare straight through her. He was faintly aware of her mouth moving, of her hands on his shoulders, but he didn't respond. 

 

"Oh my God," she gasped, looking over her shoulder at the door. "Is he okay? Is it bad?" Richie managed to snap out of it enough to spare her a glance, a bitter feeling rising in his chest. 

 

"I don't know, Beverly," he said sourly. "You're the one who knew this was going to fucking happen. So you tell me: Is it bad? Is this how he dies this time? Something goes wrong while they fix him up, yeah? Or he loses too much blood, and just—" He snapped his fingers and Bev flinched, tears beginning to spill down her cheeks. "He's gone, like that?" Richie finished cruelly. He knew he wasn't being fair— but he was terrified. He was pissed. He could hardly see straight, let alone think. 

 

"Thar's not fair, Richie," Bev said, voice trembling. "I thought I was warning you in time— I wanted to let you sleep. I knew you had a rough day yesterday, and I—" 

 

"An understatement," Richie snarled, and she grimaced, a guilty look in her eyes. 

 

"I'm sorry!" She suddenly burst into tears. "I didn't know! I didn't mean to let this happen— everything is going so fast, and I keep fucking up, and—" 

 

"Does he die in there?" Richie demanded, taking her by the arms. She stared up at her, blue eyes huge and round and scared. He shook her harshly. "Does he?!" 

 

"Hey, take your hand soft the lady!" An unfamiliar voice called. Richie closed his eyes and took a deep breath, doing as he was told and stepping back, though the anger had hardly faded. 

 

"Mind your own business," he snarled, glaring around at the busy ER. Multiple people were looking back, but nobody followed up the previous speaker. Neither did the person own up to their interjection. Bev was still crying, staring at him, hiccuping and trying to stifle her sobs with her hands. Richie put his head in his hands, body beginning to shake with rage. 

 

"I don't know what we did to deserve this," he whispered faintly, so quietly that he was sure nobody heard him. Then, louder, he straightened up and said, "I'm sorry for shouting at you, Bevvie. I'm just scared." 

 

"We all are." She eyed him distrustfully, sniffling and struggling through hitches in her breath. A few more tears tumbled down, and Richie finally felt his anger begin to fade and be replaced with shame. They eyed each other uneasily for a minute, before she took a cautious step forward and took his limp hand in her own— the one that was bandaged up. 

 

"He'll be okay," she relented softly. "He'll wake up when Mike does. In a few hours. And then Bill decides that Mike stays—" 

 

"No." 

 

"—and Eddie sneaks away with us," she finished, wiping her nose. 

 

"No," Richie repeated. "Absolutely not. He's not coming with us." 

 

"Richie, it's not your decision to make," Bev told him coldly, letting go of his hand. 

 

"No," Richie said a third time, shaking his head. She just looked at him sadly, head tilting. 

 

"You can't stop him, Rich. He chooses to come with us." 

 

And somehow, through it all, through the hurricane of thoughts racing through his mind, and the flurry of conflicting emotions in his heart, Richie understood that Bev was right. 

 

He could do nothing but wait for the love of his life to die in his arms once again. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Mike woke up at 11:35 in the morning— almost four hours after Eddie had been rushed away with a gaping hole in his side. 

 

Bill, Ben and Beverly were gathered around him while Richie stood by the door, waiting for a nurse to come back with news about Eddie. When Mike woke up, he knew that Eddie was about to be coming around— and they would all go visit him soon. 

 

"H-H-Hey, Mikey," Bill said, and Richie looked up, hands in his pockets. Well— one hand in his pocket. The bandaged one hung limply at his side. 

 

"Hey," Mike rasped. He sounded terrible. Henry had stabbed him in the leg— he called the police himself, just like the first time, but he had lost a lot of blood and they said he wasn't going to be cleared for a few days at least. Richie wanted to walk over— but he kept seeing that nurse disappearing around far corners and never quite stopping to say anything to him. He was getting antsy. So he listened from the door. 

 

"How are you feeling?" Beverly was asking. 

 

"I've been better," Mike answered, and there was a soft chuckle from the other three Losers. "What's with him?" Richie glanced back to see that Mike was looking at him and reluctantly pulled himself away from the door to walk over. 

 

"Hey Mikey," he mumbled, looking down. "Sorry. Eddie is in another room and I'm waiting for the O.K. to go see him." 

 

"Is he alright?" Mike asked, alarmed. 

 

"He got stabbed. Like you, only in the soft spots." Richie gestured at his side for emphasis. "It didn't look like it was too bad— he could walk and talk fine, he just looked spooked. But I'm still worried." 

 

"Well, of course you are," Mike agreed. Then, with a tinge of humor in his voice, he added, "I bet you weren't as worried about me, now, were you?" Richie managed a small smile. 

 

"Yowza, Homeschool. What gave it away?" 

 

Mike laughed. Richie shuffled his feet uncomfortably. 

 

"Well, Rich, if you were so concerned about me, you'd've been over here earlier," Mike pointed out. 

 

"I was worried," Richie insisted. "I just—" 

 

"—Didn't think there was a chance I would die this time," Mike finished, and though that wasn't what Richie had been about to say, he fell into a guilty silence, cheeks turning red. But Mike didn't look offended. "I get it, Rich. Don't sweat the small stuff." Only, it didn't feel small. Mike took a deep breath and looked towards the window, sighing softly. "I don't think it's my time, yet, anyway. When I die, I'll go out with a library card in one hand and an overdue stamp in the other." This time, Richie joined in on the laughter, but just a little bit. 

 

His attention was drawn by someone knocking as they entered the room. He glanced over his shoulder to see the nurse. She smiled. 

 

"He's awake if you want to come see him," she offered. Richie perked up, but hesitated, throwing a shameful glance back at Mike. 

 

"Go see your boyfriend, Trashmouth," Mike said, waving him away. "I'm alright. Stuck here, but I'm alright. You can go see him." 

 

"I'll stay with Mike if you guys want to go visit Eddie," Ben offered, sitting down in a chair by Mike's side, and Richie knew what he was really thinking as he looked at Bill, who nodded grimly. 

 

He's going to evaluate him and decide if he's still okay to come with us. 

 

A bitter feeling began to rise like bile in Richie's throat and he didn't wait for his friends as he crossed the room with long strides to be the first out the door. He faintly heard Beverly opt to stay behind as well, and looked back briefly to see her watching him with anxious eyes as Bill approached the exit. The nurse began leading them down the hallway and instead of trailing behind, Richie matched her steps. 

 

"He was asking for a Richie. I'm guessing that's you?" She asked. 

 

"Yeah," Richie said, suddenly breathless. "He was asking for me?" 

 

"He's okay," she assured him as they turned a corner and sped up a little bit. "They actually patched him up very nicely. It wasn't too deep of a cut. He got lucky." 

 

"Good." Richie could hardly contain himself as she slowed, approaching a door and opening it slowly. Richie was inside the second the gap was large enough for him to fit through. 

 

"Richie?" A groggy voice asked. He was by Eddie's side in and instant, grabbing his hands and pressing them to his face. 

 

"Hey, Eds, yeah, it's me!" He said, smiling so wide it hurt. Eddie looked exhausted— but the color had returned to his face and he was smiling, too. "How are you feeling?" 

 

"Good!" Eddie said, pinching at Richie's cheeks and pulling, only to let go and giggle. "I feel a little... tired. But it doesn't hurt anymore. I think they did a really good job." 

 

"H-H-He can sleep in the c-car," Bill said from the other side of the bed. Richie glared at him, and he scowled back. 

 

"Hey Billy!" Eddie greeted, ands returning to his lap. He was sitting up. "How's Mike?" 

 

"He's a-awake, b-b-but HES In rough sh-shape," Bill answered. "I duh-duh-don't think he's c-coming with us."

 

"Oh." Eddie looked down, brows furrowing. "That sucks." 

 

"Yeah," Bill agreed. "W-What about y-y-you?" 

 

"He's staying here," Richie said immediately. 

 

"You can't tell me what to do," Eddie countered. 

 

"Watch me," Richie hissed back, and Eddie's expression soured. 

 

"Excuse us, Bill," he said, voice cold. Bill walked out very quickly, and Richie avoided Eddie's eyes, frowning deeply. "What the fuck, Richie? I'm going with you." 

 

"The hell you are!" Richie laughed shrilly. "I'm not going to let you leave. If you come with us, then I might have to watch you die again. But if you stay here, then maybe we can still have something together when we kill It. Can't you see?" Eddie's expression became pained as Richie grabbed his hands, smiling, though he knew there was a desperate sadness in his eyes. "This is our chance to actually make it. This is our chance to have the life we wanted back when e were kids." 

 

"I would love that, Richie," Eddie whispered. "More than you know." He reached up and grabbed the color of his shirt, pulling him down and pressing their foreheads together. "But I can't sit here knowing that you're down there by yourself. What if I end up waiting forever for someone who isn't coming back?" 

 

"I promise I'll come back if you just stay here," Richie assured him. "I promise. Cross my heart, hope to—" 

 

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Eddie hissed, squeezing his eyes shut. Richie pressed a kiss to the corner of his lips. "And don't make promises you can't keep. I'm going with you, and if you have a problem, then you can kiss whatever this is goodbye. I won't live with someone who tries to control me— I've done it my entire life and I'm trusting that things are going to be different with you. So if you'd like to prove me wrong, be my guest. But I'll have none of it. So either help me out of this damned hospital gown and sneak me out of this place, or get the hell out of my way." 

 

Heart sinking into a black abyss, Richie stepped back. He grabbed Eddie's clothes off the chair, thinking hard as he walked over to the door and closed it as quietly as he could, turning to look back at the brunet, who's beautiful brown eyes were stony and determined. But he knew him. He was terrified. So, a soft smile tugging at his lips, Richie allowed the nostalgic fondness to revive his dying heart. 

 

"Eds... You're braver than you think." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

They hit the road a half hour later. Smuggling Eddie out of the hospital had been alarmingly easy, although Richie would not have been surprised if It had pulled a few strings in the process. After all, anything to get Eddie closer to where he could once again die in his arms. 

 

He shook the thought away and instead focused on how Eddie snorted softly with his head resting on his shoulder. He had taken some painkillers on the way out, and Richie had trouble not giving them the eye as they passed under his watchful gaze and disappeared into Eddie's fanny pack. 

 

Now Eddie slept leaning against him, and although Richie only had one mobile arm, the fanny pack was starting to look really inviting. The zipper wasn't even closed all the way— it was screaming to be opened. He felt his palms begin to sweat and his stomach start to churn. He tore his gaze away and looked out the window, wiping his mouth with his free hand. 

 

They were on the highway. Bev had turned the radio off about three miles back— but now the jarring silence seemed deafening. Richie let his head rest against the window and sighed, squeezing his eyes shut. 

 

"Bev," he murmured, unwilling to wake Eddie up. "Do you have a smoke? Could you hand it to me, lit?" There was a soft confirmation, and he heard her shuffling with something, then the click of a lighter. She handed it back and he took it in a shaking hand. She eyed him uneasily, glancing at Eddie and frowning. 

 

"He doesn't make it," Richie mumbled. "Does he?" 

 

"I can't tel, you," she said. "Or else it won't happen the way it's supposed to." 

 

"Well if he dies and you do tell me and it doesn't happen the way it's supposed to, then that's a good thing," Richie said. She just shook her head, turning to face the front again. Richie took a long drag, pressing his cheek to the top of Eddie's head as he exhaled and falling back into the terrible silence of the car. 

 

The 'Welcome to Derry, ME' sign showed up forty-five minutes into their drive, and Richie closed his eyes. His cigarette was long gone, butt out the window. He felt a little bad for smoking in Eddie's rental, but the cynical part of him told him that it wouldn't matter once the brunet was dead anyways, so he just let his head fall back against the window with a soft klunk and pushed the thought from his mind. 

 

They pulled up to the house on Neibolt Street and Richie threw a lasting look at the fanny pack. He could see the label through the gap in the zipper. Then he nudged Eddie before his idea could become a reality, a dull panic beginning to settle in. 

 

"Eddie," he said, jostling him. "Eddie, wake up. We're her. We have to get out." The brunet started to sit up, yawning, and his face scrunched up in that cute way, but Richie found no pleasure in this. He unbuckled himself and got out of the van, gaining his footing. 

 

As the rest of the remaining Losers clambered out, he picked up a stone and hurtled it at the house. It struck an old shingle and broke a piece off, both masses clattering to the ground. He picked up a few more ock s and threw them each, harder every time until the last one crashed through what remained of one of the windows and someone grabbed his wrists, turning him away. 

 

"Stop it," Eddie was saying. His eyes were still glossed with sleep. Richie melted, drawing the man closer and pulling an arm away to touch his hair. "Stop," Eddie complained, pushing him back. Richie scowled, hurt, and turned away. "I didn't—" Eddie started to say, then sighed. "I didn't mean to offend you. I just want to get this over with. Then you can touch my hair all you want. I promise." 

 

"Don't make promises you can't keep," Richie warned him coldly, walking up to the front porch of the house and stepping in just behind Bill. Bev followed, then Ben,and finally, Eddie. They trudged into the kitchen, all together this time, and every step left Richie feeling more and more exhausted. 

 

"Is Stanley in the fridge?" He grunted to Beverly. She glanced at the box, and they all tensed. 

 

Nothing happened. 

 

"What happened to Bowers?" Ben suddenly realized. "We should be careful— he might be lurking around like when we were kids." 

 

"No, I ran over him with the van," Richie announced calmly. "There's a body that I'm fairly certain has a pancake head in the townhouse parking lot." 

 

"Oh my God." Bev put a hand over her mouth— as if you didn't know— and her steps faltered. 

 

"Suh-So that's what w-was on the b-b-back of the v-van," Bill commented, and Richie cringed, nodding. They slink forward as a group, heading down the stairs into the basement. They crowded around the well, looking down. 

 

As Richie stared into the seemingly never ending fall, he had the brief thought that perhaps nothing would challenge them at all. 

 

It was waiting for them down there. 

 

Or, at least, It was waiting for him. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Eddie hung onto Richie's back when they climbed down this time. He didn't ant to tear his fresh stitches, and Richie thought that if he was going to insist on being here he might as well be here as safely as possible, so he agreed. He had never taken steps so carefully in his life. 

 

Similarly to the first time, despite the circumstances, he wondered what it would feel like to have Eddie up against a wall with his legs curled around his waist from the front— they were very long. And a smug, satisfied part of him decided that it wasn't as inappropriate of a notion this time, seeing as Eddie was his—

 

"Could you possibly climb any slower?" The man himself complained. Richie felt a hand sneak between his back and Eddie's torso, and a few contents of the fanny pack spilled out, much to the brunet's distaste. "Shit! I dropped my painkillers." 

 

Richie couldn't say he was sad to see the temptation go. 

 

He finally got them into the little crevice with the others and they began to crawl. Eddie's ass was in his face and he reached up, smacking it when they had stopped for an unideal amount of time. 

 

"Shit, Richie, don't do that!" Eddie cried. "You scared me!" 

 

"Well, you aren't moving!" Richie observed aloud. 

 

"Bill is climbing into the next tunnel!" His partner hissed back. Richie rolled his eyes and fell silent, waiting. Finally, Eddie started to shift forward, and he disappeared into the next chamber. Richie clambered after him, feet splashing down until he was waist-high in grey water. 

 

"Fuck," Eddie moaned, arms above his head. He scooted around Richie and clambered up onto his back, lifting himself mere inches further up out of the liquid. "How many diseases must be down here?" 

 

"Enough to eat you alive," Richie teased. Eddie whacked the back of his head. "Ow!" Richie complained, wading after his friends up ahead. "You know, you should rally be nicer to me. I do everything for you." 

 

"Yeah, except comfort me in a time of great need," Eddie countered. 

 

"By, I told you to stay at the hospital," was all Richie said, shrugging his shoulders under Eddie's grip. 

 

"You know why I couldn't do that," Eddie mumbled, and suddenly his mouth was pressed right against Richie's ear, breath hot against his neck. Richie shivered, gripping his thighs a little tighter and hefting him upwards a little to adjust his grip. 

 

"Tell me again," Richie said. Eddie kissed the skin behind his ear and didn't reply. They made their wats slowly through the tunnels and when thy reached the area it's the little trap door, Richie let Eddie down and drew him in for one last deep kiss. 

 

"I love you," he whispered into Eddie's ear, hushed so the rest of the world was left out. Eddie touched his cheek and adjusted his glasses, smiling. 

 

"I love you too, Rich," he said. "More than you'll ever know." 

 

He slipped his hand into Richie's, turned towards the door, and they braced themselves. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie wasn't stupid. He knew Eddie was going to die no matter what he did. But somehow, he kept trying anyways. 

 

"You stubborn bastard," It kept hissing as he dragged his lover through tunnels and cracks in the wall, tossing stones as he passed. 

 

"That's me," he agreed under his breath, not pausing until they were in a deep enough cave to feel safe. Eddie was clutching his hand in a death grip, eyes wild and scared. 

 

"What do we do?!" He demanded. "We can't beat that— it's huge! I choked the leper in Mr. Keene's basement, but he was smaller— human sized!" 

 

"I don't know!" Richie said, glancing back down the jagged hallway. He couldn't see out into the cavern, but he heard It laughing, tearing at walls of stone. Then it hit him, and his face went slack. "Wait— you what?!" 

 

"I choked the leper..?" Eddie repeated, realization seeming to dawn on him. "Oh my God— Oh my God. Richie, that's it!" 

 

"But how do we—?" Richie started to say. 

 

"I don't know, but we have to try! We have to tell the others!" Eddie said, and he started towards the corridor that led to the main cavern. Terror struck Richie like lightning as he disappeared from view too quickly to be stopped. 

 

"Eddie!" He called, darting after him, but the man was just a few steps out of reach. He broke out into the large, cavernous space, and saw Eddie running along the edge, unnoticed thus far by the clown-spider hybrid on the other side of the clearing. Heart leaping into his chest, Richie followed, fear causing him to go numb. He had tunnel-vision— he could hardly breathe. Eddie disappeared into the crevice where they had entered, sliding down and getting low. Richie followed, slipping at the bottom and landing on his ass with a huff of breath. 

 

"I don't know where they are," Eddie said breathlessly. 

 

"Don't you dare fucking run off again," Richie gasped for breath, grabbing Eddie's arms in an iron-like grip. "And don't tell me not to control you right now— because look where we fucking are, Eddie. There is no coming back if you make a mistake. You can't be reckless." Eddie frowned at him, but after a few agonizing seconds of hesitance, he nodded. Richie pulled him close, pressed a chaste kiss to his lips, then let him go. Eddie gave him a thin smile. 

 

"We're gonna get out of this alive, Rich," he said, beginning to clamber back up, and Richie followed until they were right at the edge of the crevice. "We're gonna go home. Just a little while longer. Are you with me?" 

 

"Always," Richie assured him. Eddie grabbed his hand, and they ran. Richie matched him stride for stride as they disappeared into a new crack, following Beverly's screams into a cavern at the end where she lay shivering on the ground. 

 

"Beverly!" Eddie screamed, and he let go of Richie's hands to grab her. The moment his fingers grazed her skin she sprung to life, eyes snapping open, seizing his wrists with shaking hands, uttering screams that surely alerted It to their location. 

 

"Shhh!" Richie hushed her furiously— but it was too late. He could hear It's voice, drifting down the tunnel— Or was It in his head? 

 

"I found you, Funny Boy!" The clown cackled. "Nowhere for you to run now— Especially not since your last hope for a distraction is dead in the water." 

 

Bill. 

 

Terror caused Richie's mind to spin, and he clutched the rocky wall, face going pale. 

 

Bill is dead. 

 

"You didn't think I would kill anyone else, did you?!" It demanded, voice becoming shrill with maniacal glee. "Didn't think I would stick it to any of your other precious friends. But now you're stuck in there, and you have two choices." 

 

A bone-chilling hiss sent shivers down Richie's spine as he watched a clueless Eddie comfort a horrified Bev. They locked eyes, and he understood that there was no going back. 

 

"You come out and face me like a man... or you and your precious Lover Boy starve." 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie wasn't one to think before he acted, but this was an extravagant act of recklessness even for him. 

 

He cast a glance back at his distracted soulmate, crouching over the redhead who was shaking her head at him with eyes so wide and blue and terrified that he almost drowned in them as if they were oceans. Then he turned and he ran. He expected her to scream— to blow his cover and to send Eddie running after him— but the sound never came. 

 

Richie burst from the crevice and tumbled down the slight slope, the jagged ground slicing cuts and banging bruises into his arms and face. It watched him go, grin seeming to widen with unrestrained glee. He struggled to his feet and turned to face It, jaw setting as determination helped him stand his ground. It stalked towards him, sneering hissing and spitting, and Richie knew he had to act quick or die quick if this was going to be over before Eddie realize she was gone— if he hadn't already. 

 

"The Funny Boy," It spat, regarding him carefully, watchfully. "Is this going to be it for you?" 

 

"It will be for you," Richie countered. It howled with laughter, and the ground seemed to shake beneath Richie's feet. 

 

"Foolish man!" It bellowed. "You are but an appetizer— I will feast on the world you know and love. You are simply the entertainment!" 

 

"Speak for yourself," Richie shouted. "The only entertainment I see is a big, nasty, no-good, motherfucking clown!" 

 

It made an ugly face, lip curling as it regarded him with distaste. Richie's heart leaped into his throat as he saw Eddie's face swim out of the darkness of the crack where Beverly was hiding, watching with fearful eyes. Then he forced his gaze back to the clown, who was seething with rage. 

 

"I eat planets like yours for breakfast!" It thundered, rearing up and slamming its spindly legs back down against the stone floor. "You are nothing! Nothing!" 

 

"If I'm nothing, then why waste so much of your power on making me destroy myself?!" Richie yelled, and It flinched as he took a step forward. "Unless—" Richie took a breath, eyes widening behind his coke-bottle lenses. "Unless it's because you can't do it yourself!" 

 

"I could kill you where you stand!" It shrieked, pointing a pincer at him with threatening gestures. "You'd be dead before you could blink!" 

 

"Then do it!" Richie dared, spreading his arms. "I'm not afraid anymore— I'm not afraid of what you'll do to me." 

 

"You should be!" It snarled. "You see what I've done to him— Time and time again, you've seen what I've done to him. I could tear you into shreds! I could rip your mind apart layer by layer— an agonizing process, and deathly slow, but I could do it! And you would suffer for an eternity!" 

 

"There's just one thing you don't understand," Richie said, taking another step towards It, and it seized up. He thought he saw fear it It's eyes, but it might have been his imagination. "It's love." The word made It recoil. Richie looked away from the clown and locked eyes with Eddie, who was in the open now, staring right back. He was no longer talking to the being as he continued. 

 

"They say that before you love someone, you have to love yourself," he shouted. He smiled a painful smile. "Bullshit! I've never loved myself." 

 

"You don't deserve to be loved!" It sneered. Richie ignored it, gaze unwavering. 

 

"But God," he continued, shaking his head and daring to laugh just a little bit. "Loving you made me forget what hating myself felt like." 

 

"No!" It screeched, flinging a limb out— Richie tensed, ready for run, but there was a flash of red hair, and Eddie was stumbling out of the way just as the spear of an appendage made contact. 

 

"Beverly!" 

 

Richie hardly heard his own scream as the woman clutched her stomach, crimson staining her already-maroon shirt. She looked up, tears cutting through her dirt-covered cheeks, and mouthed something. 

 

I'm sorry. 

 

Richie took a few shaky steps towards her. He saw Eddie fall to his knees by her side just as she hit the ground. All sounds seemed to cease— Richie couldn't even hear his own footsteps as he stumbled across the clearing, the only thing between him and his friends being a looming creature, furious and violent and towering over all of them with absolute control. It grabbed the back of his shirt, lifting him into the air, just like the last time. 

 

Richie fought it, kicking and screaming and punching at the thing that held him suspended. He watched in growing horror as it hacked at the slanted roof of the cafe, dislodging stones, sharp and jagged, which began to fall and clatter around his friends. Eddie, unaware, leaned over Bev— shaking her, clutching her sheet-white and lifeless face in his hands. 

 

One particularly large chunk of cave wall fell into the open air. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie didn't even hear the crunch when it hit the ground. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

Chapter Text

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

8.   Unworthy 

 

It's like I'm running away from me

It's like I've taken the puzzle in me

And left it scrambled for all to see

 

It's like I'm fighting behind these walls

And hiding through metaphors

This is real, these are flaws

 

- by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, 2017

 

 

 

 

It knew it was beginning to lose its grip on the disaster that liked to call himself a man. It would be even harder to turn everything back this time— and if It didn't succeed this time around, it had a feeling that it might be near-impossible after this. 

 

It could feel his anger growing— like a hurricane as it touched down just off the coast of the ocean, ready to move inland and tear the very roots of civilization from the ground and leave a path of destruction and devastation in its wake. 

 

It was reluctant to call the emotion stirring within its stomach fear... but what else it could be was beyond even It's understanding. Part of It was afraid that the Trashmouth would watch his prize die with little emotion at all. That he had just grown used to it now, and it would no longer have the intended effect. 

 

But the other, darker, deeper, more private part of It's being knew that this was not the case. 

 

While the Funny Boy would no longer react the way It wanted him to, it was not out of nonchalance— 

 

He was pissed. 

 

And rightfully so, It had to admit, as it watched the shell of a human trudge up to the stone that had crushed the bodies of his two remaining friends, one living and one already having passed through the veil. But this was a different kind of anger than before. 

 

This was a blind fury. 

 

But It could see flickers of recklessness in his heart, and It knew that maybe once more wouldn't kill him— after all, if he got to him this time, and truly broke him down, then the end would be so much more worth it. 

 

So it straightened its back— held its head up high. The man turned, and he saw those dark eyes flash with that smoldering fury. He started to turn around and make his way back towards it, and It faltered, stepping back. 

 

What is he doing? 

 

"Don't you dare," the little pest was saying, and his voice shook and cracked so much that It hardly caught his words. But he continued, and he was only getting closer, and It was only backing further into the now seemingly-closed in space of its home. "Don't you dare fucking start this over again." 

 

"You'd rather live in a world where he's dead?" It sneered— break him down— "A world where you never get to feel his touch again? Where you know for the rest of your life that he is a lifeless corpse buried under the twin that killed everyone who ever loved you?" 

 

"I'd rather kill you where you stand and live the rest of my life knowing that you are a lifeless corpse buried under the innocent town of perfectly normal people who died, and cried, and made decisions they never would have considered if it weren't for a little bird whispering in their ear and controlling their every move," the human snarled, and that emotion— fear— prickled in It's heart once again as its back hit the wall and he continued to advance. 

 

"You can't kill me!" It sneered. "You're all alone— and you're all grown up.

 

"Yeah, well," Richie Tozier grunted, shrugging his jacket off and tossing it aside. "I may be an old man— but you're a fucking fossil." 

 

Snarling, hissing, and spitting with contempt, It reached out— 

 

"NO—

 

Time began to stutter to a stop, and It felt the worm fighting it, his screams exploding in its head— 

 

"YOU MOTHER FUCKER YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW I'M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU YOU BASTARD STOP—" 

 

Everything ended. Then it began again. 

 

Time moved backwards, in reverse, spinning like a top. 

 

Then it stopped. 

 

And the world started spinning once more as a final, fleeting screech echoed in the back of It's mind. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

I'd rather die than do this all over again. 

 

Richie awoke with a start, as usual, and got up too fast. He groaned, clutching his pounding head as black clouded in the edges of his vision and he sat back down, massaging his temples. When the dizzy spell passed, he stood back up, and there was a hot feeling in his stomach— but it wasn't the good kind. 

 

He grabbed his phone and his keys off of the bedside table, blinked out his contacts and threw them out in favor of his glasses, which perched on the bridge of his nose as he slammed the door behind him and stormed out onto the street. 

 

He had half a mind to just go to Neibolt right then. It had been afraid of him this time— He had seen it in It's eyes. It knew he knew something. A key detail. 

 

"I  choked the leper in Mr. Keene's basement—"

 

Mike would know what to do. And Richie was going to make sure he was there with them this time. Even if it meant he couldn't spend all of his attention on Eddie— by God, he was going to make sure they killed It this time. He practically stomped the entire way to the library, fuming with rage, and the door of the library slammed against the wall when it swung open. 

 

There weren't many people inside, but Mike was staring at him from behind the counter, and there was a soft shuffling from within the gift shop as Sam came out of the back to see what was going on. Richie ignored the latter, walking over to Mike and gripping the edge of the counter so tightly that his knuckles turned white. 

 

"Mikey," he said, surprised at how steady his voice came out. "I need to talk to you. Before everyone else gets here." 

 

"Okay," the man said, brows furrowed. "But Rich— it's kind of soon for something to have gone wrong. Everything is okay, right?" 

 

"It's early for you, but too late for me," Richie grumbled. "Can we go somewhere private?" 

 

"Sure," Mike replied, eyebrows so high on his head that Richie thought they might fly away. "Just come on around back." He led Richie around the desk and into the back room, closing the door quietly behind them. Richie drifted further into the room, running his hands down his face and rubbing his eyes. "What's goin' on?" 

 

"Well— it's going to sound crazy," Richie said, turning on his heels and lowering his hands. "You might not believe me." 

 

"Trust me, Rich, I've seen enough in my lifetime to know that nothing is too crazy for this motherfucker," he sighed. "Just tell me what's on your mind." 

 

"Okay," Richie said, and his voice had finally begun to shake. "Okay. Well... It's absolutely insane, but this is the eighth time I've woken up in the Derry townhouse on the day that we're all reuniting to kill It once and for all." 

 

"What do you mean?" Mike asked, looking lost. "You fell asleep eight times?" 

 

"No!" Richie said, shaking his head. "I mean, I've gone through all of this seven times now. I've seen how this all plays out, seven different ways, and this is the eighth chance I have to make it work." 

 

"Eight out of how many?" Mike asked, and the fact that this was his first question almost made Richie laugh. Not, 'Are you sure you weren't dreaming, Rich?' or, 'Are you feeling okay?' He was concerned about what, in Richie's opinion, were the important things, and the relief that washed over him at that moment was unmatched by any he'd felt prior to this conversation. 

 

"Nine," he admitted. "And I'm terrified, Mikey— Every single time, It makes me watch Eddie die. And if I don't save him this time, I only have one more chance to stop it from happening for good.

 

"Jesus, Tozier!" Mike shook his head, lifting a hand to pinch his brow. "You've watched him die seven times?" 

 

"Well— watched it happen five or six, but yeah, he's died seven times," Richie said. "It's crazy— it's fucking insane, I know how it sounds— but I swear to you Mikey, I'm telling the truth." 

 

"I believe you, Richie," the man replied very seriously, walking over and clapping him on the shoulder. "And to be quite honest with you, I'm not very surprised." 

 

"Really?" Richie asked desperately. Mike nodded. "Thank God," Richie sighed. Although, a tiny, child-like part of him thought, If there really was a God, this wouldn't be happening to me right now. 

 

"Richie, this is important," Mike said, grabbing his arms. "If we can figure out a way to kill It this time, we might break the loop. It won't be able to turn things backwards again." 

 

"Eddie chokes the leper when he sees it later," Richie said immediately. "He says he choked it— he was killing it, Mikey. That's gotta be something, and I was really hoping you'd know what." Mike thought about it, letting go of Richie's arms and looking down, his brow furrowed again in that thoughtful way. 

 

"Well, we know It can be hurt physically," Mike said. "Beverly stabbed it when we were in Neibolt the first time— and we all beat on it last time we were there." 

 

"Yeah, just give me another fuckin' bat," Richie growled, gaze flitting to the side. Mike chuckled, and his deep voice was rather soothing. Richie felt his shoulders begin to relax. "Mikey, it feels really good to get this off my chest, I've gotta say," Richie admitted. Mike looked up sharply. 

 

"You've been keeping this to yourself?" He asked, horrified. "God, Rich, what were you thinking? Nobody should have to go through something like this on their own!" 

 

"I just— I didn't want to scare everyone more than I had to!" Richie exclaimed, beginning to feel overwhelmed. "And— And I thought, you know, this is my problem, not you guys's. You shouldn't have to pull my weight. But I'm scared, Mikey. I'm terrified that I won't be able to do it... and I'm so tired. So fucking tired." 

 

"It's okay, Rich," Mike soothed, pulling him into a much-needed hug. "You're okay." 

 

"It doesn't feel okay!" Richie almost cried, struggling to hold back his tears. He had cried enough— It wasn't worth his tears. But despite that thought, he knew he could feel one or two dropping onto the lenses of his glasses as he hunched over Mike's shoulder. "And last time I remembered something— something I never wanted to remember. And it won't leave me head. It just keeps coming back, and it doesn't leave room for anything else. It's endless. It's infinite. I can't do it anymore." 

 

"Yes you can," Mike insisted, pulling back and looking him in the eye. "You're Richie Tozier— you make wisecracks in the most inappropriate situations. You always have something funny to say. You poke fun at Eddie and drive him crazy, and always look away just long enough to miss the way that he looks back." 

 

"Jesus, you guys and your comments on the way he looks at me," Richie groaned, exasperated. "Fine, so we dated when we were kids— and we never told you. But he moved on, and he's a married man now, Mikey. I shouldn't have done the things I did these last few rounds." 

 

"Well, gee, Rich, what did you do?" Mike wiggled his eyebrows. Richie made a face at him. 

 

"Go fuck your self, man." 

 

"No, I'm curious, really!" Mike insisted. "Whatever did your little escapades entail?" 

 

"None of your business," Richie snapped, cheeks red. 

 

"I know, I'm just teasing you," Mike laughed. He paused, and looked up at Richie, eyebrows knit together. "I missed you, Rich." 

 

The startling realization that this was still the first time Mike had seen him in twenty-seven years hit Richie like a pound of bricks. He managed a small smile. "I missed you too, Mikey." The bell rang at the front counter, and they both glanced at the door. 

 

They both looked at each other, sighed, and headed back out into the library. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

It was Eddie. 

 

Richie hung back behind the counter, hands stuck in his pockets, and Eddie kept glancing over, eyeing him strangely as Mike spoke with him in a hushed voice. Richie felt conflicted. 

 

Part of him knew that if Eddie went as hard on him as he had the time before last, he wouldn't stand a chance. But that same part also knew it might not get as far— there was a looming terror in the back of his mind, and he understood his need to be on his back, his slight panic at the prospect of being in such a vulnerable state. 

 

The other part knew he shouldn't let Eddie do that, because the wedding ring was still on his finger, and taking it off didn't change the fact that he was married. He had a wife. Myra. She may be a carbon-copy of Sonia, but Richie knew it wasn't fair to Eddie to let him make the decision while they were in such a drastic situation. He probably wasn't thinking clear, anyway. 

 

But when Mike stepped away for a few minutes to take care of some things before he went on break, and Eddie wandered over, still eyeing him like he was some sort of treat, Richie couldn't deny the small swirl of warmth and perhaps something else in his stomach. 

 

"Hi," Eddie said, and he stood on the opposite side of the counter, placing his hands lightly on the surface. 

 

"Hi," Richie replied. He tilted his head a little bit, and Eddie mirrored the action, grinning at him.

 

"It's been a while," the brunet prompted. 

 

"Twenty-seven years is a while," Richie agreed, and Eddie's smile widened a tad. He bit his lip, and Richie forced himself to look away, throat bobbing as he swallowed with some difficulty. 

 

"Well, did'ja miss me?" Eddie asked, looking up through his lashes as he leaned forward over the counter. 

 

"Is that even a valid question?" Richie countered. Eddie's eyes softened, and his smile suddenly lost its mischief and became much more warm and pleasant. He looked genuinely happy— something Richie felt he hadn't seen in too long. It made his heart flutter, and he hoped he didn't look as close to crying as he felt. 

 

"I missed you," Eddie said. "Get over here, you asshole." 

 

So Richie made his way around the desk and over to his old friend. Eddie locked an arm around his neck and pulled him down. Richie hugged him back just as tightly— maybe even a bit tighter. He pressed his face into Eddie's shoulder, savoring the burning feeling of his skin against his cheeks. Eddie's fingers danced up the nape of his neck, and Richie shivered, eyes fluttering shut at the sensation. 

 

"How are you, Spaghetti?" Richie asked, pulling away earlier than he'd have liked to— and judging by the way Eddie's hands lingered on his shoulders, earlier than the brunet would have liked, as well. But he didn't mention it, simply looked at him with that small smile. 

 

"I've been better," he admitted. 

 

"Really?" Richie asked, and his gaze trailed down to Eddie's hand. "You look happy." 

 

Eddie followed his gaze, and twisted the ring nervously, wringing his hands. "Yeah," he mumbled, and Richie saw he was no longer smiling. "I got married." Then he looked up with a sudden sadness that made Richie's heart ache. "I would have invited all of you," he said. "Really, I would have— but you were all such big names. I didn't want to bother you." 

 

"I'm no big deal," Richie murmured. "You know I would have been there in a heartbeat." 

 

"That's what I was afraid of," Eddie whispered. "I was scared that if I invited you, and you came— then it would hurt too much. And I might do something drastic." 

 

"Like what?" Richie dared to ask, and Eddie grimaced, gaze trailing away. 

 

"Well, I—" 

 

"You guys ready to go?" Mike appeared suddenly, pulling his jacket over his shoulders. "We're actually running a little late— I think Bev might beat us there." 

 

Richie's shoulders slumped, and Eddie pursed his lips, frowning. Neither spoke for a few seconds— then Eddie spoke up, shrugging a little bit and shuffling his feet. 

 

"Sure, Mikey," he said, and Richie thought he might be the only one in the world who detected the sour tone in his voice and knew exactly why it was there. 

 

"Wanna take a ride in my rental?" 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Bev did, in fact, beat them there. 

 

It was a little strange being the second group to arrive, for once, but Richie walked in by Eddie's side and sat down beside him, like usual. There was a difference this time. Bev sat on his other side, and as soon as he had pulled his chair in, she was gripping his hand tightly, practically squeezing the life out of it. 

 

Richie looked at her, and she seemed a bit pale. But she smiled reassuringly, and he squeezed her hand back, gripping it just as tightly. 

 

They didn't let go until she stood up to greet Ben. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Richie decided that seeing as Eddie was alive and standing right next to him, he missed Stanley Uris more than anything in the entire universe at that very second. 

 

Mike had broken the news halfway through their chat about what was going on around town, and although it had hit Richie hard before, he had never really thought about it the way he did this time. He had been preoccupied— and this time, he felt the loss more so than he had during any of his other chances. 

 

Stan had been his best friend— save for Eddie, but Eddie didn't count, especially after he had become something more. Stan had been the one Richie talked to about everything— except for the obvious— but he knew Stan knew anyway. Stan always knew. 

 

Beverly was crying, and Bill was pale as a sheet. Richie had his hands on his knees and he was gripping them so tightly that his knuckles were white. He felt like he was going to pass out. Or throw up. Or both. 

 

"Excuse me," he barely managed to get out before he was getting up so quickly that his chair fell backwards and lurching out of the room. He heard someone call out for him as he exited the room and stumbled across the restaurant, looking around wildly for a restroom. His vision began to cloud, and his stomach churned dangerously. 

 

No, no, no, just hold on— 

 

("Yeah, I guess I love you, too, Tozier.")

 

The ghost of a whisper jarred his mind and he almost tripped over his own feet, gagging and speeding up. He could see the bathroom— a single, God, he hoped there was nobody in there— and he made it just in time, the knob turning under the weight of his hand. He barely got the door locked and lifted the toilet seat before he was dry-heaving— there was hardly anything in his stomach besides alcohol from lunch and a few measly bites of whatever appetizer Bill had ordered. 

 

He finally got something up, and he felt sicker than he had during this entire shit-show. Someone was knocking on the door. He felt his elbows buckle, and his cheek hit the cold tile floor. He was shivering violently— everything was black—  everything was echoing, and he thought of being in a dark tunnel. 

 

Terror, sudden and powerful, gripped him in its clawed hands, and he barely but back a scream as the faint echo of hands, rough against his back and hips, pressed into his skin and left deep purple marks, fiery skin against his own. He bit down on his tongue as the blackness began to fade from his vision and he started to move, sluggish and hazy, hauling himself back up to the toilet just as another dry heave wracked his body. 

 

Once he was sure that his stomach had settled and all that was left was his swimming vision and the stinging tears in his eyes, he got to his feet, though his knees wobbled violently. He flushed the toilet and splashed cold water on his face, before finally opening the door. 

 

"Ben?" He asked groggily, looking up at the man who stood on the other side. 

 

"Hey, Rich," the Loser replied. "You feeling okay?" 

 

"No," Richie answered honestly. "I feel like shit. Do I look like shit?" 

 

Ben hesitated. "Well—" 

 

"I look like shit," Richie confirmed, looking back into the mirror. He was white as a ghost and sweating, despite how cold he felt— and he could see himself shaking. "Am I holding everyone up?" 

 

"Well, no, we were just worried," Ben explained. "But— But I wanted to come check on you and make sure you were doing okay. You looked like you were about to pass out. So Eddie and I came to check, but we didn't want to overwhelm you when you came out, so he went back to wait for you at the table." 

 

"Oh. Gotcha," Richie mumbled, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and trying to stand up straight, but it just made his stomach give him a warning jolt, so he hunched back over, pressing a cold hand to his forehead, which felt like fire against his icy fingers. 

 

"Are you okay to walk back? You can lean on me if you want," Ben offered. Richie took a deep breath and nodded feebly, sidling up to his taller friend's side and slinging an arm around his shoulders. Ben gripped him by the waist and they made slow steps back across the hall, ignoring the looks they got from passers by. 

 

"Benny Boy, wait a sec," Richie said as they approached their destination. "I don't want to worry them more than I have to. I can make it to the table from here." He leaned on the wall when Ben let go, taking a minute to catch his breath and shake the cloudiness from his vision. 

 

"Are you sure, Rich?" Ben asked, looking at him with furrowed brows. "I think you look like you need to go to sleep." 

 

God, I wish I could, Haystack. 

 

"I'm fine," Richie waved him away, blinking a few times. "I'm okay. I'm going in." He brushed past the man, testing his sealegs without touching the wall, and felt unsteady— but he knew he had to make it seem like he was okay, so he bit his lip and held his breath, then pushed the door open. 

 

All eyes were on him as he walked shakily back to his seat. He had a fleeting moment of panic halfway across the small space, fearing that he might keel over— there was the screech of chair legs against a wooden floor and he saw Eddie getting up out of the corner of his eye— but he froze, straightened up and scowled deeply, exhaling in a short huff of breath. 

 

"I'm fine," he snapped. Ben had walked around him and back over to his seat, watching warily. Eddie was on his feet still, unconvinced. Richie walked the rest of his way to his chair and plopped down, stomach gurgling in protest as the way he had jostled it. "What are you all looking at?" He demanded. Everyone looked pointedly away, and his shoulders hunched distrustfully. Eddie sat back down, and his hand crept towards Richie's, but the wild-haired man moved his away, gaze locked on the food that had been set out while he was gone. 

 

And even though there was flambé, even though he had hardly eaten anything in as long as he could remember, there was only one thing that Richie knew for sure.

 

He wasn't hungry. 

 

 

Ο Ο Ο

 

 

Conversation was sparse for a little while. Nobody really had an appetite any longer. Richie still felt sick. Even though he pulled his hand away, Eddie's was on his knee, but he didn't say anything. The brunet squeezed every so often, and Richie tried not to jump, but he knew the color returned to his face a little bit every time it happened. 

 

"So what are we supposed to do now, Mikey?" Eddie asked after prodding at his food with distaste in his eyes for long enough that it was definitely cold. Everyone fell into an uncomfortable silence. Richie bit the tip of his thumb, chewing anxiously on his nail, a habit that he thought he had broken years ago. 

 

Then again, if there was anything that he had learned about Derry, it was that no habits that died here every really died. 

 

Nothing that died here ever really died. 

 

"You all need to remember everything that happened that summer," Mike replied as the waitress placed a bowl of fortune cookies in the middle of the table and took his almost untouched plate. "And I mean everything.

 

"I already remember," Bev said, brows furrowed. "We got together— we went to the house on Neibolt street, down into the well, and fought It. Only we thought It died." 

 

"But there was a time when we weren't all together," Mike prompted. 

 

"After Bill and I fought," Richie supplied, not bothering to make it sound like a realization. He was exhausted— he just wanted this to be over so he could sleep. "After Eds broke his arm." 

 

"Oh my God," Bev gasped. "You're right!" 

 

"You need to remember the time that we were apart," Mike said. "Go somewhere that was significant to you, and only you during that chunk of time. And when you remember, meet at the library or the townhouse— whichever is more convenient." 

 

Richie was hardly hearing this. He was staring dully at the fortune cookies in the center of the table, and his head ached. Had one of them already started to move, or was it his imagination? 

 

"I-I-Is everyone ruh-ready to head out?" Bill was asking. Richie blinked, heart beginning to beat a little bit faster, and he realized he was leaning so far forward that the strings of his hoodie were brushing his food. Eddie's grip on his knee tightened and he jumped, nearly choking on his own tongue. 

 

"Wait! I want a fortune cookie," he heard Bev say. 

 

"No—" he began to say, but tasted blood in his mouth, and his tongue started to sting. He realized he had bitten it— and he put his fingers to his mouth. They came back slightly red. He heard the soft crackle of the cookie breaking open, shattering through his thoughts as if they were made of glass, and he was out of his seat in an instant, scrambling away from the table and away from his friends. 

 

Bev shrieked as the same old and crimson-red blood spilled out onto the table in front of her. Richie fell backwards as his dizziness returned, and he scooted back until he hit the wall, delirious and confused as six voices started to talk at once. 

 

The cookies spilled over the edge of the table this time, and one of them skittered across the floor, resting at his feet. Richie watched it with huge eyes, vision clearing just enough to see it crack open— but there was nothing in it. 

 

Until he heard them. 

 

Instead of a physical being, sounds began to spill from the pastry. 

 

"Richie! You came! I have to tell you something." 

 

"No," Richie repeated, the returning color beginning to drain from his face once more. "No. Don't do that." 

 

"Hey—

 

A wheezing cough— 

 

"Don't... Don't call me Eds. You know I..." 

 

"Stop it!" Richie cried out, clutching his head in his hands and covering against the wall. "Stop!" 

 

"And if you're feeling lucky, maybe I'll get down and dirty with you when we get there."

 

"Please, just leave me alone, stop doing this to me—" Richie sobbed, trying to cover his ears, but the voice was in head head, haunting and ghostly. It would do no good to block his hearing— It was in his mind. It was a parasite, eating him from the inside out. It was—

 

"Don't leave me here, you guys—"

 

"I'm going to die. Richie, I'm going to—" 

 

"I don't want to hear him, I don't want to hear it anymore, leave me alone!" Richie screamed, voice ripping his vocal cords up, and the taste of blood continued to fill his mouth until he could hardly focus on anything else. The voice of his soulmate only seemed to grow louder. 

 

"richierichieRICHIE OH MY GOD SOMEBODY GO HELP HIM— 

 

Richie come back please come back I'm scared Richie please—

 

(RICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIERICHIE)—"

 

Then the sickening thud of a stone against the ground. 

 

"STOP IT!" Richie screeched at the top of his lungs. He lurched forward and slammed his fist against the fortune cookie, crushing it against the floor. He hit it again, and again, until there was nothing but crumbs, and then continued to strike it, despite the way the jarring movement made his stomach cry out in protest and his vision to darken. 

 

"Richie!" Ben was saying, and a strong pair of arms hauled him upwards. He felt himself get pressed against a sturdy body, and he held on for dear life, crying into the shoulder of his friend. Ben supported him, and he felt broad hands against his back, steadying him, grounding him. The endless amounts of noise seemed to cease— and Richie tried to calm himself down, hiccuping, choking, fogging up his glasses with his obnoxious acts of distress. 

 

"You're alright, Rich," Ben was saying, patting his back carefully. 

 

"I don't believe you," Richie gurgled, but he tightened his grip on the back of the man's shirt anyways. "Don't let go of me." 

 

"I won't," Ben assured, though he sounded surprised. 

 

"Is e-everyone o-o-okay?" Bill's voice rang out. 

 

"I've got Richie," Ben replied. "And I'm okay." 

 

"Fine," came Beverly's short reply, though it was unconvincing. 

 

"I'm alright," Mike said. 

 

"Eh-Eh-Eddie?" Bill asked, and Richie started to pull away from Ben, looking around wildly. 

 

The brunet was cowering in the corner, face white, eyes huge. Richie pushed himself off of his support system and stumbled over carefully, reaching out. He started to teeter and crashed against the man, who clutched him tightly, face mashing against the side of his neck. 

 

"I've got you," Richie whispered, though it was really Eddie who was supporting his weight. "Don't worry, Eds. I've got you." Then louder, to the rest of the group, "He's alright. Shaken, but alright." 

 

"Jesus Christ," he heard Bev whisper, but he was focused on the man who was clutching onto him like his life depended on it. 

 

"It's okay," he whispered. 

 

"No it's not," Eddie said back. Richie didn't say anything. Eddie was right, of course. 

 

"Guys," Mike said, and Richie lifted his head, glancing over his shoulder. The man was looking around with anxious eyes. "We still have to go through with this." 

 

"Fuck you, Mikey," he grumbled. Then he frowned and shook his head. "I didn't mean that. I'm sorry." 

 

"You're all scared," Mike continued. "I know you're scared. But I promise you we can do this. It is possible." 

 

"Even without Stanley?" Bev asked, and Richie flinched. Eddie held him tighter, chest jumping as his breath hitched. 

 

"Even without Stanley," Mike agreed, though he didn't sound certain. "I hope." 

 

"You h-h-hope?" Bill asked sharply. "It's it p-possible or not?" 

 

"I don't know," Mike admitted. "But we have to try." 

 

Nobody spoke. Not even as they exited the restaurant. 

 

Eddie was no longer within Richie's reach, but the taller man didn't need help walking anymore. He refused to need help. This time was going to be different, he was sure of it.