Georgia in late May was hot as balls.
Not Eddie’s terminology, but painfully accurate nonetheless.
“How is it already like a sauna in hell?” he gasped when they got out at the welcome center in Lavonia. He was a veteran of many, many New York summers, but this was different. On the one hand, he didn’t feel like there was a fine layer of grime on his skin, mixing with the sweat. On the other, the backs of his legs were already wet, and he wasn’t really a fan of feeling like he’d pissed himself.
“Why the fuck did we do this?” Richie asked, leaning against the car with his t-shirt pulled up to let the air conditioning blow under it. “Whose idea was it to resurrect Stan? Can we un-ring that bell?”
“Fuck you, Mike,” Eddie said weakly when Mike pulled up next to them in his blue Neon and he, Bill, Ben, and Bev got out. Bev, in her slim black pants and spotless white shirt and sunglasses, looked like she’d never heard of a sweat gland. “No, I changed my mind. Fuck you, Bev.”
“Dude,” Ben said.
“Eddie’s blood sugar is very low and it’s ninety degrees and I’ve had to piss for like an hour,” Richie said. “In the interest of not committing more murder, let us be silent.”
“You first, asshole,” Eddie snapped, but Richie only turned off the car and stalked toward the bathrooms.
His temper had evened out by the time he was sitting on a bench in the cool building, eating peanut butter crackers. Richie circled the blue dog statue and Eddie knew, with absolute certainty, that he was thinking about climbing on it and getting a picture.
“I’m not getting on that thing with you,” he said, dusting crumbs off his shirt.
Richie shot him a wounded glance. “I wasn’t gonna ask you,” he said, which was such an obvious lie Eddie didn’t bother to challenge it. “It’s almost as big as you are.”
“Eat a dick, Trashmouth,” Eddie said.
“Marsh, hop on this thing,” Richie said, grinning triumphantly at Eddie when Bev came out of the bathroom.
“No, I need to stay out of photos for a while,” Bev said. “But I’ll take the picture for you.”
“Why are you encouraging him?” Mike said, sitting down beside Eddie.
“No one’s encouraging him,” Eddie said. “If we weren’t here, he’d grab some random dude off the street.”
“I need to live out loud,” Richie said, throwing a leg over the statue. “I’ve been mature beyond my years for so long.”
“All right. Ride ’em, cowboy,” Bev said, holding up Richie’s camera.
It was about even odds whether Bev would go along with Richie’s bullshit. Sometimes she thought up her own bullshit and Richie threw himself after her with an enthusiasm that sometimes gave Eddie a little twinge of jealousy. It was that little twinge, irrational and childish though he knew it was, that had driven him to follow the two of them when they decided to climb onto the roof of the very nice brick hotel in Mechanicsville, which was covered in no-smoking signs, to smoke. “You’re coming with, Eds?” Richie had asked, delighted, and maybe putting that look on Richie’s face was the real reason he wanted to do it.
Or maybe it was the slow-building energy that had started gathering in him the moment he heard Mike’s voice on the phone and started to remember who he was. It was all of that, really, and he had lain on the slanted roof and looked up at the stars and let it wash over him: the warm night air, the rumble of Richie and Bev talking, the smell of cigarettes and chlorine from the pool on the other side of the building, the shiver that went through Richie’s body when Eddie turned his head and kissed his wrist, simply because it was in kissing distance and out of Bev’s line of sight. He didn’t care if she saw—it was hard to care when she’d already been present for the entire theatrical release, so to speak—but he knew Richie did.
“Let’s get the others and go swimming,” he had said, ignoring the little Sonia Kaspbrak in his head who whisper-screamed What are you doing? You just got stabbed in the face five days ago and you’re going to put your body into water that’s full of urine and fecal bacteria? Have you even thought about the kind of fungal infections you could get on your feet just by standing next to a public pool? Let’s go inside and take your pills and go to bed.
They had all gone swimming in their underwear until the exasperated manager came out to tell them the pool was closing and to please be quiet, and then they ran back to their rooms dripping and shivering and laughing. And yes, he was tired now because they had stayed up late and woken up early, and yes, he had scraped his feet on the bottom of the pool, and yes, his skin was a little irritated because he hadn’t rinsed the chlorine off very well, but how could any of that possibly matter in the face of his life, all his beautiful bright life ahead of him? He was overtaken by wild, almost explosive energy that kept rushing through him because they were alive, they were all alive, he was alive and his best friends were alive and they knew him and loved him and he got to have all of that and feel everything with his whole self. There were twenty-five years of dreary half-existence behind him, and he would probably need to face that at some point, but for now he let the unfettered, ferocious joy light him up.
Even when it was ninety degrees out and the man he loved was a goddamn idiot.
In the car, watching out of the corner of his eye as Richie attempted to eat a Krispy Kreme donut and check his phone at the same time so he could prove to Eddie that the lyrics were “with a manicure, mister” not “with a manager, mister,” the windows down and the highway rushing past, he thought maybe his happiness was especially crazy and big when it was ninety degrees and the man he loved was an idiot. He could sit with discomfort and irritation because they were temporary instead of permanent, the way they had been before. But mama, that’s where the fun is, Eddie thought, and sang it along with the song to make Richie smile his big dorky surprised smile before he went back to Google and was forced to admit Eddie was right.
Eddie didn’t know what he had expected to happen after he told Richie he loved him. They were exactly the same, except they had said the words aloud; none of the other Losers knew anything was different when they met up with them for lunch, but to be fair, they were still recovering from both killing a clown demon and what Richie insisted on calling the Resursexion.
“No? Sexurrection?” he asked.
“That just sounds like sex erection,” Eddie said.
“No, it’s like sexur,” Richie said, holding his fingers up as he drew out the syllable like he was instructing a language class. “Sex-urrrrrr.”
“If you’re g-gonna call it anything, it should be the Resurrecstan,” Bill said.
“So we’re all agreed that we want to go see Stanley, right?” Mike said as Eddie opened his mouth to complain about the fact that people actually paid Bill to be a wordsmith.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “How are we getting there?”
“I don’t know about you all, but I’m driving,” Mike said, and Eddie realized he hadn’t even considered flying.
“I want to drive too,” he said. “And, uh, I feel like a douche saying this, but I need a new phone before I do anything else.”
“Me too,” Bill said. “I have some things I need to t-take care of before I leave.”
He was staring down at the metal lattice of the table with his eyebrows drawn together. Eddie wondered if the things Bill had to take care of were similar to his own things, or to Bev’s. He hadn’t said anything about his wife, but he had stayed with Mike the night before, and Eddie had definitely seen Bev and Ben going into a room together. Not that that necessarily meant anything, because he had shared Richie’s bed and the most salacious thing that had happened was that Richie had woken him at four in the morning by rolling over and slapping his arm. But he knew as well as anyone that the meaning underneath the actions was more important than the actions themselves, and that it was more than just sharing a room regardless of whether they touched or not.
“There’s a store over by Target,” Mike said. “I don’t want to stay another night in Derry, so I might head out this evening.”
“You know I’m with you, whenever you need to leave,” Bill said.
“It’ll take me like two minutes to pack,” Richie said. He was leaned back in his chair, enjoying a margarita. They had requested an outside table, and the breeze flipped the little wispy, curling ends of his hair and made Eddie’s stomach twist with a warm flood of affection and not a small amount of lust, which was ridiculous because Richie was wearing a gray t-shirt with a bulldog on the front, a pair of black pajama pants that showed his hairy ankles, flip-flops, and prescription sunglasses.
“Maybe when we’re at Target, you can buy some pants,” Eddie said.
“It’s like the surface of the sun in Georgia,” Richie said. “I’m getting a bikini and you all can fucking suck it.”
“I for one am just glad you your d-d-dick will be covered,” Bill said.
“And my nipples,” Richie said. “I don’t want them to burn.”
“Drink faster and give me your keys,” Eddie said, nudging him under the table. “Let’s get out of this fucking town already.”
Once they had made the decision to leave, it was a mad dash to see who could get out of Derry the fastest. Eddie had already returned his rental and realized he wouldn’t be able to fit all his luggage in Richie’s ridiculous dick-mobile, and spent ten minutes sorting through one suitcase to find the few things he actually cared about, shoved them into the other suitcase, and tossed the rest in the dumpster. He already knew exactly what kind of phone he wanted, so the trip to the phone place should have been quick, but he still ended up taking three times as long as Ben and Bill because he didn’t want rose gold, which he had said twelve times already. Finally, Richie said, “Eds, do you wanna set up residency here or something? You know you’re just gonna put a gigantic concrete case over it. Hurry the fuck up and skidoo, you.”
“Skidoo?” Eddie hissed, shoving the rose gold phone at the kid who was helping him without even looking. “How’s 1920 treating you, granny?”
“Pretty well actually. I got the cat’s pajamas right here,” Richie said. He had been staring out the window and tapping his fingers on the counter, but suddenly focused on Eddie, grinning brightly. Eddie had spent the greater part of his childhood trying to get the full sunshine force of Richie’s attention on him and was still startled when it happened, ducking his head and smiling and rolling his eyes all at once.
“Weren’t you gonna buy some normal human clothes?” he asked.
Richie shook his head. “Figured you could help me pick something out,” he said. “Not that I don’t love it when you complain, but what if you liked my clothes? This could be a new thing for me.”
Eddie was distracted for a moment by the phone kid asking for his card. He’d been putting everything on the one that was just in his name, and every time he saw the joint account debit card tucked neatly behind it, the boulder of dread in his stomach grew larger. You need to take care of that, he thought, and pushed it away for later.
“I do like your clothes,” he said, and immediately regretted it. “I mean, they’re…terrible. But they’re yours. I’m not gonna tell you how to dress.”
Richie’s face was unreadable for a second while he chewed on his lip. “Huh,” he said, and Eddie felt it was honestly his own fault when Richie bought six pairs of board shorts in various flower patterns, but they drew Eddie’s attention to his ass and thighs in a way that made him feel like he was crawling out of his own skin. He didn’t know if it was just because he had felt that way from the moment he saw Richie again or if he was genuinely into ugly early-2000s fashion, but when they were in the car he looked down at the steering wheel, working up his courage, and then stretched across the center console and pulled Richie close by the back of his neck and kissed him. Richie made a surprised noise into his mouth, and then another when the kiss turned hot because Eddie wanted to push everything out of the way and climb on top of him.
He pulled away, breathing hard, when he realized he had slid one hand under Richie’s shirt and was digging his fingers into the broad, firm muscle of his back. Richie blinked slowly, looking like he’d just woken up, and licked his lips before he shivered and flopped back in his seat with a little laugh. He reached down to pull at the front of his shorts, and Eddie saw the thick bulge of his cock beside his fly and almost dove back in to kiss him again.
“Jesus,” he said in a shaky voice that didn’t sound like his own at all.
“Sorry,” Richie mumbled, turning red.
“No, I like it,” Eddie said, starting the car. “And your stupid fucking shorts.”
Richie gave him an uncertain look and was quiet for a while, putting Stan’s address into his phone’s GPS and setting it on the dash.
They stopped for the night outside of Boston. Eddie and Mike were the only ones who had voted to keep going, and while Eddie thought that the ones doing the driving should get more votes than the passengers, he finally gave in when Bev asked him the statistics on tired driving. He didn’t feel tired, although he had only slept about four hours the night before, and not at all the night before that. Driving always energized him, and it was not because he secretly wanted to fuck Richie’s ridiculous car, as someone wearing ugly board shorts claimed. Mostly.
“I need to call Myra,” he said after they had checked in and split off automatically into three hotel rooms.
“Oh,” Richie said, in a voice utterly devoid of emotion. His face—colorless, flat—matched the tone, and Eddie stared at him, alarmed. He had never imagined Richie could sound or look like that, and he was pretty sure he knew all Richie’s voices.
“I don’t think I can put it off any longer,” he said, still staring warily at Richie. “I have to tell her I’m not coming back.”
Richie gasped, his face collapsing a little, and sat down hard on the big ugly orange chair in their hotel room, clutching his heart. “Fucking fuck, Eds, be gentle with me. I’m so unhealthy.”
“Shit.” Eddie scrambled to kneel in front of him, grabbing his wrist to check his pulse. “I didn’t think you’d—why the fuck would you—I’ve told you I’m going to call her and tell her like fifteen times, dude. Why else would I be calling?”
“Because you forgot everything again, or you decided you prefer how your life was before, or you actually specifically just don’t want me, or some other reason I haven’t thought of yet.” Richie gave him a weird, wobbling smile. “I’m really fucked up, Eds.”
“Are you?” Eddie asked, kissing his knuckles. “It seems like you’re just scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Richie said. “Scared is for fighting a clown. I’m terrified out of my fucking mind.”
“What would it take to make you stop being terrified?”
“I don’t know.” Richie closed his eyes, his leg jiggling. “Time. Divorce paperwork. Sex that’s not part of a ritual.”
“I can give you all those things,” Eddie said. He kissed along the back of Richie’s hand and all the way up the inside of his arm—his big, strong, weirdly sexy arm, which Eddie had ignored until he really couldn’t anymore and had thereafter allowed himself to experience the full force of what felt like twenty-five years of abject, knee-weakening horniness. Jesus fucking Christ, I think I want to bite him, he thought, bewildered.
Richie’s face twisted and he seemed bare to Eddie in a way it had never been before, totally uncovered. There was a lot there—fear and hope and love and a strange sadness that Eddie wanted to erase forever, whatever it took—and he got the sense that Richie was forcefully pushing down some internal barrier and allowing Eddie in.
“Do you actually want to deal with me?” he asked. “Eds? With all of this?”
Eddie thought about trying to explain the way he felt like a rocket set free from the atmosphere, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to get it right. Instead, he stood up, staying close between Richie’s legs, took a deep breath, and tried to let Richie in too. He pictured it—a door to a house, maybe, although Richie had always been allowed inside in a way no one else was. A gate opening? It was more like a wall being slowly destroyed without violence, disintegrating into nothing in the face of this one man. It should have been ridiculous. Love like this, eternal and unbreakable and greater than a universe, shouldn’t exist for someone like Eddie Kaspbrak, who had a spreadsheet that let him know when it was time to buy new socks and underwear.
“I want everything with you,” he said, running his fingers over the stubble on Richie’s cheek to feel the rough edges of it. “I'm pretty sure it's permanent.”
“Infected for life?” Richie asked wryly.
“For life,” he agreed, and reached for him.
The pull between familiarity and newness made him nervous. It was Richie, and he was old hat at touching Richie, but it was Richie, who loved him and who had quite seriously fucked him so well he thought he’d never recover from it. He had hugged Richie all the time when they were little enough that no one was alarmed when he wanted to be cuddled by his friends 24/7, and then he kept on doing it well after he knew they weren’t supposed to. It never seemed wrong to want to touch Richie, and Richie might have teased him for every other thing but never for that. If he pulled up one image of his youth, it was fighting with Richie while wrapped around him in ways his body couldn’t even dream of contorting into now.
But it was different, feeling Richie’s arms slide around him. It was charged with difference, with intent. Richie’s shoulders were big and tense under his hands until he bent his head and kissed him.
“I’m scared too,” he said, and kissed him again.
“Sex. Well, no—not sex. That I’ll be bad at it.” He smiled down at Richie, who had turned his face up to Eddie’s, looking puzzled. “I’m out of practice. I was never really in practice.”
“Eds, you were at that orgy, right?” Richie asked, loosening his hold but keeping his hands on Eddie’s hips. “That was next level.”
“Oh my god, it really was,” he breathed, leaning against Richie. He was getting hard just thinking about it—that moment when Richie looked up at him, his mouth dropped open in shock, his breath speeding up so unmistakably, and Eddie realized they were both about to come without even fucking. “It was so fucking good.”
“Right?” Richie asked. “So why do you think you’ll be bad at it?”
Richie’s hands slid under his shirt, making his skin light up with pleasure. It was almost unbearable, the way Richie’s fingertips traced along his back, and he writhed against him, whining into his neck. “Richie, what the fuck. Why does it feel so good?”
“You really want me?” Richie said, his voice open and naked and needy. Oh, you really are fucked up about this, Eddie thought, and was overwhelmed by tenderness for a moment.
“I really do,” he whispered. “I just don’t want to be bad at this.”
“I don’t think you could be,” Richie said. “You could throw me off a cliff and I’d be like ‘Ah, sexual fulfillment.’ You have no idea how much I—I just. I can’t believe you want me. That’s all. I don’t want to piss you off by needing to be convinced all the time, but that’s, uh. That’s where I’m at.”
“Rich, I want you so much I feel like I'm going insane,” he said, and took a slow, shaky breath. “I wasn’t gonna tell you this because you don’t need any ego boosting, but dude. Your dick.”
“It’s really nice,” Eddie said.
“Nice,” Richie said. “Like a small piece of light cheese nice, or nice like the lady at the bank who always says ‘Have a blessed day’ nice?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. You were there, man. You saw how I reacted.” He was getting worked up just thinking about it. “It’s really big and I, like…”
Richie rubbed his shoulder and he shivered. “You what?”
“I can’t stop thinking about how good it felt,” he blurted out. “I knew I liked having something, you know, in me, but I came so hard.”
“I thought.” Richie cleared his throat. “I thought maybe it was the ritual.”
Eddie gave a short laugh. “Uh, no.”
“You liked my fingers too,” Richie said. His voice was soft, uncertain.
“Yes,” Eddie groaned. “Every time I look at your hands I get hard. It’s fucking embarrassing.”
“You want me to do that to you again? Finger you?” Richie asked, and Eddie leaned into him, groaning again. “What if I sucked your cock?”
“I want you to do anything to me,” he said. “I think I’m little messed up about blowjobs, though.”
If he had to be completely accurate, he was very, very messed up about blowjobs, in that he had never made it through one. In the back of his mind he’d always vaguely wondered if he’d like it better than penetrative sex, because as far as he could tell, that was a big dud, but every time either he or Myra had ever broached the idea of oral sex, it ended in an asthma attack. Actually, sex often ended that way. They were both virgins when they were married, and Myra liked to think of it as romantic—which Eddie supposed it might be, if sex was something he had looked forward to instead of something that filled him with panicky dread. They were both too tired on the first night of their honeymoon to attempt anything, and on the second night, when he took a hit off his inhaler first and thought about nothing at all, just closed his eyes and doggedly put himself to the task of orgasm like he was on the treadmill, he was so upset afterward that he cried in the shower and told himself it must be relief.
One day several months later, he and Myra were discussing the divorce of one of Eddie’s coworkers, who had been cheating on his wife with another coworker. So dumb, he had said. I don’t understand how anyone could want sex that much. Myra had agreed immediately. Who would ruin their whole life for that? she had said, and they both laughed. It was the closest he had ever felt to her.
They made time for sex once in a while and Eddie tried not to feel guilty about how long it had been, or about the fact that they always used condoms, or that every time he had clumsily tried to ask her what would make her feel good, she told him to stop worrying about it. He thought Myra saw sex as a comfort for him, and could not tell her it was more like a vaccination. During the last year, his asthma had been particularly bad and they hadn’t had sex at all because every time he thought about being touched, his mind called up an image he couldn’t explain, red balloons popping, and the thought It’s almost time to float! would begin to echo through his head. Once he mindlessly Googled it to see if it was something from a movie he didn’t remember, and only got a bunch of hits on flotation therapy.
“I don’t know if I’ll like that,” he confessed to Richie. “I—it kind of scares me.”
Richie didn’t quite flinch, but there was something so wary and somehow resigned in his face that Eddie reached for his hand. “It’s okay,” Richie said, very carefully. “We don’t have to do that.”
“The clown,” Eddie said, taking Richie’s hand and placing it palm down over his heart, breathing slowly in and out, the way he had done during a hundred asthma attacks. Richie raised his eyebrows and Eddie gave him a short nod to let him know he was all right before he let go. “The leper. It was something he said to me. I’ll blow you for a dime.”
“Wow.” Richie blinked. “He was a lot more straightforward with you than he was with me.”
“He probably knew he’d have to be very specific if he wanted to torture me.” He sighed. “I have no idea how I feel about it now.”
“Um.” Richie’s hands tightened on Eddie’s hips, and he leaned in close, his eyes hot and serious. Like he was telling a secret, Eddie thought, and shivered again. “We never have to do it, if you don’t want to. But if you did, I could make it good for you. I mean, I want to.”
“Oh,” he said breathlessly. “Do you like it?”
Richie leaned forward, forehead resting against Eddie’s chest. Through his t-shirt, he felt how warm Richie’s face was as he nodded, and ran his fingers through his hair, loving the sight of his own fingers smoothing Richie’s hair away from his temples. It was soft and fine and felt exactly the way it had when he was younger, when he had imagined touching Richie like this almost as much as he had imagined kissing him.
“So let’s do that, then,” he said, pushing Richie away by the shoulders. “If you want to. I won’t be scared with you.”
Richie reached up and tucked his fingers into the waist of Eddie’s pants, rubbing against his stomach just under the elastic of his boxers. “Yeah?” he asked, his thumb toying with the button of his fly.
“Yeah. I know you’ll stop if I freak out,” he said, and took a deep breath before he added, feeling like an idiot, “I bet you’ll be good.”
“I will be,” Richie promised, looking up at Eddie with his eyes wide. “I want to make you feel good, Eds.”
“Okay,” he said, shakily reaching for the hem of his shirt to take it off.
“Let me, okay?” Richie said, standing, and yeah, that really did something for Eddie.
He kicked his shoes and socks off and then stood still, and Richie moved behind him and kissed his neck while he clenched his hands and let the heat of Richie’s mouth send little jolts down through his abdomen and between his legs. Richie slipped his hands under Eddie’s t-shirt and pushed it up and off, bending down and kissing a line down his spine and making Eddie’s hips jerk when he put his arms around him from behind and undid his pants. He was pressed all along Eddie’s back, heavy hard cock against his ass, lips just brushing along the skin of his neck, and then his pants and underwear were pushed down and off and he was naked with Richie fully clothed behind him.
“Jesus Christ, you’re so–” Richie choked out, his hands light and reverent on Eddie’s skin, which was so sensitive every touch made his cock jerk, and when he began to gently play with one nipple Eddie stiffened under him, moaning and leaning his head back on Richie’s shoulder. He reached back and grabbed Richie’s shorts and held on, forcing Richie tight against him. Richie’s other hand teased along his thigh before he wrapped it around Eddie’s cock, long fingers squeezing one slow stroke and then another.
“Hold on,” Eddie said, dizzy, turning around in Richie’s arms and pulling him down for a kiss because he’d barely gotten to kiss him at all, and he liked it so much, Richie’s mouth on his and his arms around him. There was something in it, like the pull between old and new, that he loved, something in the contrast between the slow, languid way Richie kissed him and the protective way he held him. Eddie stood on his tiptoes and kissed him and kissed him, wanted to fucking climb him, while Richie’s hands ran over his back and his ass.
“Here, get on the bed,” Richie said, leading him backward to the bed and pushing back onto it.
He climbed up far enough that Richie could stretch out between his legs, propping himself up on his elbows on either side of Eddie’s thighs. He was breathing hard, Eddie saw, his eyes heavy and dark and focused not on Eddie’s cock, even though it was so close to his mouth, but on his face.
“Do you want this?” he asked. He hadn’t taken off his glasses and Eddie realized he wasn’t going to, that Richie intended to watch him the entire time. The thought made him squirm under Richie’s weight, and he made a little whining noise, so turned on he was lightheaded, when he couldn’t move him.
Eddie tried to back away from his body far enough to think about the clown. It had never been a struggle before—the fear was always there, shoving its way comfortably into all the spaces he left between himself and Myra—but even when he dragged it out of wherever it lived in his mind, forcing himself to think of the leper limping after him and grinning while he whispered I’ll do it for a dime, it had no power over him. It was a deflated balloon.
“Yes,” he said, and looked down at his cock, a little embarrassed by how much he had dripped all over his stomach. “Obviously.”
Richie gave him a small, intense smile before he bent his head and licked up some of the come that had pooled there under his belly button and then didn’t stop, sucking his skin for a moment before he slid his mouth over the head of Eddie’s cock.
He cried out, fast and alarmed, at the heat of Richie’s mouth and the shivering, sweet panic of losing control, because he was losing control, right away. The suction and pressure and warmth and exquisite, focused pleasure wrestled away whatever remnants of control he thought he had, and it was terrifying to realize it was happening and that he liked it. He’d felt the same thing the night before, sliding down onto Richie’s cock, overwhelmed by the knowledge that all the discipline he exercised over his body was nothing when Richie was making him feel good, and that he liked it that way. Because it was Richie, he thought. Only Richie, who could take him apart and keep him safe at the same time.
“Rich,” he gasped.
“What, baby?” Richie asked hoarsely. He looked drunk, his mouth red and wet.
“I love you,” he said.
Richie’s face tightened into something that looked like pain for a second, harsh longing, before it smoothed out again. “I love you too,” he said, and rubbed his nose against Eddie’s hip. “Can I suck your dick now?”
“Yes, please,” he said primly, and Richie laughed and kissed the head of Eddie’s wet, slick cock before he went back to work. He seemed to like it as much as he claimed, however, because in short order he was moaning around Eddie’s cock, deep and choked and needy. Eddie propped himself up on one elbow to look at him and saw first his face, dazed and slack with pleasure, and then his body, his hips shifting because, Eddie realized, he was fucking against the bed while he sucked. Eddie’s entire body tingled at the sight of it, and the liquid heat spreading through his abdomen began to tighten into fear and pleasure at the same time, tumbling toward the edge even as he shook his head and kicked like he was trying to get away from it.
“Rich,” he gasped. “Richie, if you—if you need to pull away, I don’t think I can stop. I’m—”
Richie’s hands pulled him even closer, further into his mouth, and Eddie completely lost it, shoving his hips up hard again and again, unable to help the wild uneven movements or the broken, sobbing cries he made, digging his fingers hard into Richie’s shoulders as he came—in his mouth, he thought, his eyes squeezing shut at the enormity of the pleasure pushing its way through him. Distantly, he felt Richie press tight against the bed and felt the vibrations as he moaned, quiet and low, but his thoughts were scattered for what seemed like a long time, spread out so far that for a while he was only sensation, the pulse of his heartbeat through his body.
When he could put two ideas together again, he realized Richie’s head was resting on his stomach, breath panting against his damp skin. He’d taken his glasses off, Eddie noticed, patting Richie’s hair tiredly.
“You asleep?” he asked after a few minutes.
“Almost,” Richie mumbled, then lifted his head and shook it, taking his weight off Eddie’s hips and legs. It was a relief, but Eddie perversely wanted it back again. He had liked the sight of Richie wrapped around him like that and wondered if he could be persuaded to sleep close to him. Richie sat up and grimaced. “I haven’t come in my pants in like twenty years.”
“Oh,” Eddie said, without thinking. “I wanted to make you come.”
“Sorry,” Richie said, his shoulders hunching up.
“Don’t be sorry.” He thought of the hot, desperate noises Richie had made while he was sucking and felt like he was melting. “I like that. I like that you liked it so much.”
He reached out and touched the side of Richie’s face and Richie closed his eyes and rubbed against Eddie’s palm before he felt around for his glasses and put them on.
“I wish I’d gotten you naked, though,” Eddie said, plucking at his shirt. “I can’t believe I let you suck my dick while you were wearing those shorts.”
“You already said you like the shorts. Can’t take that back,” Richie said, standing up and going to his suitcase.
“Want to shower with me?” Eddie asked hopefully.
Richie froze with his hands somewhere deep in his suitcase. “Really? Don’t you have an hour-long shower regimen?”
“Yeah, but it’s not like I need to be alone while I do it,” he said, ignoring the fact that he had never, not once, allowed Myra near the bathroom while he was in the shower, and that she had never asked him to.
“Then I would be honored to wash my ass with you,” Richie said, and would not allow Eddie to rescind his offer.
He was so tired he almost fell asleep with his head on Richie’s shoulder in the shower, but once they were finished, he was wide awake and knew it was time. He had to call Myra.
It had been—he looked at his watch—somewhere around forty-eight hours since he had last talked to her, a low, frantic conversation just after he’d gotten stitches and he and Beverly and Ben were on their way to the library. A pretty long stretch of time by any measure, he thought, trying to be fair. He wasn’t sure he had ever gone longer than a night’s sleep without at least texting her while he was away.
“Eddie, thank god,” she gasped, picking up before the phone had even begun to ring on his end.
“Hi, Myra,” he said, squeezing his own arm firmly, digging his nails in. As if from outside himself, he could hear how his voice softened, how the cadence changed. Regressed. He became such a baby when he talked to her, he thought, and was hit with such a fierce stab of shame that he sat down beside Richie on the bed, then stood up again and started pacing.
“Edward Kaspbrak,” she said. “I’ve been going out of my mind worrying about you. Where have you been? What on earth have you been doing that you couldn’t call me?”
“My phone was broken, and I got a new one,” he said, and shook his head. He was getting caught in the explanations, and getting caught in the explanations was how he always fucked up. Take a stand, he thought, and breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth. “Myra. I am not coming back to New York.”
“You what? What? Eddie, what do you mean? What does that mean, you’re not coming back?”
“It means I’m not coming back, because I’m l—”
“Where are you right now?”
“Massachusetts,” he said automatically.
“Massachusetts,” she hissed, as if he had said the third circle of Hell. “Stay there and give me your address. Right now. You shouldn’t be driving.”
“Right now,” she said. “Eddie, you’re not thinking straight. You wouldn’t even go to the doctor to check for whiplash or concussion, and I think it’s pretty clear that was a mistake. I can be there in the morning. Where are you so I can come get you?”
He almost did it. The habit of obedience, no matter how resentful, no matter how reluctant, took up so much space inside him that he almost said the words that would allow her to come collect him like a sulky child, even with Richie sitting on the bed no more than five feet away. He wondered for a second why Richie wasn’t touching him, wasn’t encouraging him, and looked over his shoulder to see that Richie was staring intently at the bedspread, picking at it. His mouth was twisted up like he might be about to cry, and Eddie realized Richie was probably more scared about this phone call than he was.
“No,” he said, and his voice wobbled and it sounded a little more like a question than he had meant it to, but he said it without gasping or crying, and that was something. That was a lot, actually.
“What do you mean, no?” One of the things he admired about Myra was that she wasn’t a person who generally let a no stop her. She pushed objections, especially Eddie's objections, out of the way because they were ridiculous, and then she kept at it and kept at it and kept at it until Eddie finally conceded. She was usually right; even as he fought to stay calm, he realized that from her point of view, everything he was doing seemed insane. He had crashed his car, then told her he was leaving for a hometown and childhood friends he had never spoken about, for an unspecified amount of time and reasons he couldn’t explain, and now, after two full days of radio silence, he had said he was not coming back. It was ridiculous. He was being irresponsible and stupid.
I killed It, he thought, covering his eyes. With my own two hands, with their hands. We killed It, but It took twenty-seven years of my life from me and I won’t let it happen again, I can’t. I’m sorry, Myra, I think It stole some things from you too and we deserve to have them.
“No,” he said again, still wobbling. “I’m not coming back, Myra. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” he said over her, until he was almost yelling. “No. I’m sorry.”
And he hung up just as her raised voice had begun to say it was dangerous to go without medical attention for a brain bleed.
He shoved the phone into his pocket so he wouldn’t see it light up again and left his hand over his eyes, shaking.
“Jesus Christ,” Richie breathed. “You sounded exactly like you did when you used to talk to your mom.”
He nodded miserably, his face already crumpling. Richie made a startled noise and reached for him, pulling Eddie right into his arms on the bed and making a space where Eddie could completely lose his shit, which he did. He curled up into a ball and shoved his face into Richie’s hoodie and tried not to cry, and failed.
“Eddie,” Richie whispered fiercely. “God, you’re brave. You know that, right?”
Eddie did not know that, but if Richie wanted to think he was brave instead of a scared little boy, he wasn’t going to disabuse him of that notion. He clung to Richie and shook apart almost silently. Everything hurt; he kept rubbing the side of his face against Richie’s shoulder and pulling on his stitches, his throat and sinuses ached, and between killing the clown and jumping into the quarry and staying awake for three days straight and getting fucked and driving for hours, pretty much all of him was sore. But Richie’s hand running up and down his spine was slow and warm, and eventually it calmed him.
“I fucking hate crying,” he said, wiping his nose and trying to stop his heaving breath from catching and breaking his words.
“It sucks,” Richie agreed. “Makes me look like I’ve been dead for like a week.”
“I don’t care how I look,” Eddie said, tightening his fingers in Richie’s hoodie just in case he had any ideas about pulling away. “I hate how it makes me feel. I associate it with—”
Mommy. Myra. Manipulation.
“—all the times I was weak. All the times I tried to be brave, or take care of myself. I always cry when I get upset, and then if you cry, you lose. I feel better when I’m angry. I don’t feel weak then.”
“That’s how you have a heart attack before you’re fifty,” Richie said.
He laughed, in a damp sort of way, and shook his head. “I know. It’s healthier or whatever, but it doesn’t feel healthy. It feels like giving in.”
“I don’t get it,” Richie said. “You’re the most stubborn little asshole I’ve ever met.”
“Of course you don’t get it. I’m not like that with you,” Eddie sighed. “You’ve never tried to convince me I can’t take care of myself. You would never yell at me.”
“I’ve yelled at you so fucking much, dude,” Richie said. “Yelling is like eighty percent of our communication.”
“No,” he said, frustrated. “You argue with me, or tease me, or what the fuck ever. You don’t belittle me.”
“You’re already so little,” Richie murmured, stroking a path along Eddie’s wrist and over the backs of his fingers, still clenched in his sweatshirt. “I really fucking hate your mom, Eds.”
“The feeling was mutual.” Eddie smiled, remembering how they had kissed in front of his old house. If his mother had still been alive, the sight of her baby being kissed by Richie Tozier would have made her faint dead away. She’d never have believed Eddie wanted it more than anything—she’d have blamed it all on Richie, foul-mouthed and dirty, not the right kind of company for a boy like Eddie. She remained resolutely uncharmed by Richie’s sweet, goofy, buck-toothed, freckled face, maybe because she had always had some inkling, however buried it was, of how much her son was charmed by it, how much Eddie liked being foul-mouthed and dirty right along with him.
“No, I’m being serious here. I didn’t give a shit if she liked me or not. I hated her because she tried to diminish you so you could stay in her pocket forever. You never let her, though, firecracker.” Richie’s eyes and smile were soft when Eddie looked up, startled. “It was always amazing watching you go off.”
“I had a lot of feelings when I was a kid,” he said, playing with the zipper on Richie’s hoodie. “I think they’re sort of coming back now.”
“Yeah, I feel like my entire brain is waking up and it’s all pins and needles,” Richie said. He yawned and leaned back on the bed, Eddie still tucked against him.
“Hmm,” Eddie said, and fell asleep in the middle of trying to think of something to say about Richie’s dumb brain.
He woke sometime in the night and rearranged them so they were under the blankets instead of on top of them. Richie protested, mumbling nonsense, and Eddie told him to be quiet and get comfortable, for fuck’s sake, which seemed to pacify him. It took Eddie longer to fall asleep again, and he lay listening to the air conditioner turn on and off, blowing against the curtains and making the chain rustle. Richie was turned toward him, but his head was resting on Eddie's arm so his breath blew down rather than right into Eddie's face, because Richie was much less annoying asleep than awake. He kissed the top of Richie's head, smiling in the dark and wishing he could let his tired mind rest, but there was something he kept turning over and over again and the phone call to Myra had only exacerbated it.
There was a part of him, and at this point he had no clue how big a part, that had always liked being a mama’s boy. There was great satisfaction in pleasing his mother, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to admit it, especially to Richie, but he really liked being babied sometimes. As much as he had fought against the suffocating blanket of his mother’s and then his wife’s affection, there was comfort in giving into it. Yes, that part of him said, I do want someone to pay attention to me and look out for me and keep me safe. I want someone to love me so much that they know what I need and try to give it to me.
This part of him knew very well that whatever attention he wanted, it wasn’t the kind his mother and Myra gave him, but it was the only kind out there, as far as he knew. It came close but never quite scratched the itch of need that was there in him, and he kept coming back again and again because it was almost what he wanted and yet so far away from it, he would almost rather have had nothing. But then, everything in his life was fogged over with low-grade disappointment; why would that be any different?
When you’re a little kid, all you want is for everything to be satisfying, but that’s not the point, he would have said if someone had asked him whether he was happy. That’s the trade-off. You get to have excitement, or safety. Safety is better. Maybe it’s a little boring and unsatisfying, but only immature assholes care about being happy every second of the fucking day. Who wants those kind of emotional ups and downs all the time? There’s a reason we forget about that shit when we get older and we learn to compromise. That’s being an adult.
And now here he was, running after those ups and downs and realizing he didn’t want to fucking compromise because the part of him that was Eddie Kaspbrak from Derry had woken up, and he had remembered Richie, the basis for everything he wanted without knowing he wanted it, who had modeled the kind of love he needed without even trying.
I kind of feel like maybe this is going to end in disaster, he thought, feeling for Richie's hand and hooking their pinkies together under the sheets. But even if it does, I'll be glad we had this. I'm glad I ran away with you. I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad.
A reunion, a confession, an explanation, and the completion of a circle.
It was only a little under two hours to the Uris house, and Richie turned down the music a few miles out, before Eddie asked him to. He rubbed his palms on his shorts and bit his lip, but didn’t say anything.
“You’re nervous, huh?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah,” Richie said. “I don’t know why. It’s Stan. I barfed on him like six times and he was still friends with me.”
“I’m scared too,” Eddie said. “Like…what if seeing us does something bad to him? It always felt like we were dragging him into dangerous situations. Remember in the sewers, how he said we made him go in and we weren’t his friends?”
“Yeah,” Richie said in a low voice. “He hated it so much. Being dirty. Being afraid.”
“It’s not like any of us loved it,” Eddie said, turning onto Stan’s street.
“No, but it was easy to distract you. Stan just shut down.”
“So did I,” Eddie whispered, then shook his head, grimacing. They were at Stanley and Patricia Uris’s quiet, tasteful house, set far back in the big yard, and he parked in the road so Mike would see him. He turned to Richie. “I shut down too.”
Richie’s mouth tightened. “You and Stanley both pulled it out when it mattered, Eds. All of us have done some stupid shit out of fear and desperation. At least neither of us drugged each other, which seems like it should be a low bar to clear, and yet.”
“Thanks,” he sighed. “I feel like I’m gonna be fucked up about that for a while though, just so you know.”
“That’s cool,” Richie said. “You remind me that you don’t hate me and think I’m repulsive because I love you, and I’ll remind you that you saved my life.”
Eddie leaned over the console to kiss Richie’s cheek, and when he pulled back Richie was smiling down at his own hands, his face a mixture of bashful pleasure and nerves. He was still so jumpy when they were in public, like he just barely wanted to be touched more than he wanted to be left alone. Eddie wasn’t used to being the one to reach out, and especially wasn’t used to wanting to touch. He hadn’t enjoyed being that close to anyone since…well, since the Losers, since the summer of 1990 when he had moved away from Derry, but what that really boiled down to was since Richie. Everything was different when it was his friends, and everything was still more different when it was Richie.
“I don’t hate you,” he said. “You’re not repulsive. I wanted to show you how much I don’t hate you and how not repulsive you are this morning, but we slept in too late.”
“Cool,” Richie said quietly. “And you’re the bravest person I know.”
Eddie wondered what on earth Richie was seeing in him that made him say that kind of bullshit, but decided he’d rather soak up the good feeling than know just then. Mike’s car was pulling up behind them anyway.
“Time to see Stan,” he said.
“Do you think he still irons his shorts and tucks his shirts into them?” Richie asked.
“What’s wrong with ironing your shorts?” Eddie asked. “You don’t iron anything.”
“It’s going to get wrinkled anyway,” Richie said. “What are you wasting that electricity for?”
“Oh, like you don’t fucking just throw your shit in the dryer for fifteen minutes and hope for the best,” Eddie snapped.
Bill tapped on the window. “D-do you want to actually go inside the h-h-house or just argue until you run out of gas?” he asked.
“Fuck you, dude,” Eddie said.
“Yeah, fuck you,” Richie added cheerfully.
Oh, Eddie thought when he shook Patricia Uris’s hand. Stan married a nice person.
Not just nice—anyone could be nice—but a kind person. Different from the Losers. Eddie liked to think maybe he could be kind, that all of them could be, but it wasn’t right there on the surface with any of them the way it was written all over Patricia Blum Uris: a nice woman, kind and in love with Stanley, someone who didn’t swear, who wouldn’t even think to swear, who didn’t dwell on dark things or pick fights when she was upset. An uncharitable part of him wanted to think, in the split second during which they greeted each other, that there wasn’t much there, but he didn’t think Stan would have married her if there wasn’t anything to her, and one good look in her eyes told she had lived through difficult times. She just didn’t react to them the way he did, or the way Richie did, and maybe that was why he loved Richie and not anyone else. The way they handled life, themselves, each other, emotions, was messy.
Eddie remembered Ben saying, when they were first becoming friends with him, that Stan and Eddie were more alike than the others. Eddie knew he meant they were both fussy, particular, unwilling to put up with Richie’s shit, and it wasn’t entirely untrue, but Stan snorted and said, No, Eddie’s way more like Richie, and Eddie got so mad he threw Richie’s shoe at him. He wasn’t wrong, though. Eddie was particular and he was fussy and he was unwilling to put up with Richie’s shit, but he also loved Richie and all that came with him, and he loved being Eddie with Richie and all that came with that, all the normal dirty loud kid fun that happened because he was himself at one hundred percent around Richie, and Richie liked him that way.
That wasn’t Stan at all. Stan didn’t secretly enjoy the fighting and noise and chaos. He didn’t watch with faint bemusement like Ben. He didn’t cycle between ignoring it, laughing and encouraging it, or joining in like the others. Stanley actually hated it. He liked things tidy and clean and simple, and looking around the house, Eddie thought it was exactly the way he would have imagined Stan living. It wasn’t like his childhood home, which was rather more Spartan than Eddie had always believed a home should be. Eddie’s mother was strict, but not like the Urises. Eddie hadn't learned how to do his own laundry or dishes until college because his mother insisted on taking care of them, but tidiness wasn't a priority for her. He had grown up surrounded by piles of things, collectible plates and TV Guides and knickknacks and photo albums and stacks of blankets, and with the lights always low and the curtains drawn, his house sometimes felt like a cave. The Uris house wasn’t like that, but he had always felt equally uncomfortable with the austerity there.
Stan’s house was open and light, French doors leading both into the living room and out to the back yard, and it was full of things—not the same as Eddie’s mother’s things, but art, objects picked up while traveling, objects displayed and arranged. He felt guilty for the comparison, because his mother’s things had been important to her even if they weren’t beautiful, even if they had made him feel claustrophobic, but Eddie liked beautiful things and he liked a lot of space so he could breathe. It was easy to see Stan becoming a person whose taste ran to quiet beauty. It wasn’t Eddie’s taste—Eddie liked a big statement piece, as evidenced by the gigantic statement piece taking up all the air and light in the room just by standing there in his ugly shorts and a Ron Jon Surf Shop t-shirt—but he could appreciate it nonetheless.
Stan hugged Eddie last, when the others had gone into the kitchen. “This is Eddie Kaspbrak,” he said to his wife after he had put his arms around Eddie firmly, matter-of-factly. He knew Eddie so well, still after all this time. Stan never went easy on him and he never treated him like he was delicate, but he knew that Eddie was careful with his love, and he knew—must know—that his death had fucked Eddie up. Not like it had Richie, maybe, but you couldn’t get Richie to be straightforward about anything unless you were alone with him. He’d come around to however he felt about Stan dying in his own way.
“Hi, Stan,” Eddie said shakily. His eyes were full, almost brimming over, when they pulled apart and Stan gripped him by the shoulders.
“You’re pissed,” Stan said.
He nodded, biting his lip so he wouldn’t cry, but as soon as he blinked the tears rolled down his cheeks anyway, and he brushed them away furiously.
“I’m sorry,” Stan whispered.
“I don’t want to be mad, because I’m happy you’re alive,” he said. “But I’m—I’m really fucking mad, Stanley.”
The worst of it was that he hadn’t known he was angry until just now, stepping into the foyer of Stan’s house, and he didn’t know what he was angry about exactly. There was a part of him that felt like a parent whose kid had run out into the road and narrowly missed being hit by a car. The urge to hold him and shake him and say why did you scare me like that? was baffling and strong, and it reminded him of his mother enough that he wanted to cut it out of himself.
He shook his head. “I’m more happy than I am mad,” he said. “I’ll deal with it.”
“Okay,” Stan said. “Do you want a drink?”
“Do you have any gin?” Eddie asked.
“We have a lot of gin,” Stan said, and Patty nodded.
The kitchen was big and white and clean, but the eight of them overwhelmed it, squeezing around each other and talking and stepping on feet. Beverly said, “Oh, I’ll just have whatever you’re having, Eddie,” before she slipped into the living room, and the others grabbed beer and followed. There was lemonade in the refrigerator, and Eddie grimaced before he caught himself. He was going to enjoy this drink. The acid and the sugar might hurt his teeth and he might get a headache and he might not sleep well that night because alcohol interrupted deep sleep, but he was going to enjoy it anyway.
He brought his and Bev’s drinks out, saw that Ben was sitting on the love seat by Richie, and glared at him until he shook his head with a grin and moved over far enough for Eddie to fit in between them.
“Do you want to just get in his lap?” he asked, and grunted, laughing, when Eddie elbowed his way into the space and set the drinks on the coffee table. Richie was turned away, talking to Patty, and Eddie felt that same old thing, age six, age ten, age thirteen, age forty, his permanent state when it came to Richie: Look at me. Pay attention to me. Let me be the most important thing to you. Let me pretend you’re not the most important thing to me.
As if Richie had heard his thoughts, he turned to Eddie, looking and sounding pleased. “Hi. What are you drinking?”
“None of your business,” he said. Richie put his hand over Eddie’s and brought the glass over to his own mouth to take a sip.
“Mm,” he said, smacking his lips and gagging a little. “Tastes like a lemon fucked a pine cone.”
“So stop stealing my drink, fuckface,” Eddie said.
“It’s interesting how we’ve all changed so much,” Stan said drily.
They all went quiet then, drinking thoughtfully. Eddie found himself staring across the room at the fireplace and the television above it. It was always a kick in the face, trying to marry the mundane with the insane, he thought. He remembered trying to talk about It with the others when they were younger, with kids playing around the bandstand behind them. The world was going on around them as it always did, preparing for Canal Days, and there they were talking about a shape-shifting clown. Right there in the middle of all that normalcy.
“So,” Stan said, putting his hands on his thighs. Bill caught Eddie’s eye from across the room and he knew they were thinking the same thing: he looked so much like Donald Uris just then that it was fucking creepy.
“Where do we start?” Mike asked.
“I think we start by telling Patty everything,” Stan said. “I told her what I could, but you all know more than I do, and maybe…maybe if we just talk it out, it’ll make more sense.”
“Okay,” Mike said slowly. He had his beer cradled close to his chest, and swirled it a little like it was wine. “I guess it started when It arrived, millions of years ago.”
“Millions,” Richie said.
“Yeah, dumbass, we already heard this part,” Eddie said, patting his leg.
“Maybe you did, teacher's pet,” Richie said, and Eddie shushed him.
“It arrived, and it slept until the humans came,” Mike continued. “And then It woke up and fed.”
It took a long time, and each of them told the story of how they encountered Pennywise in 1988 and 1989. Ben got up to get another beer and sat on the floor by Bev’s chair, leaving plenty of space for Eddie to move away from Richie. Instead, Eddie stayed close to him, and when Eddie haltingly made his way through the leper and the clown at Neibolt Street, Richie put an arm across the back of the love seat.
“Richie, you never had a run-in with It, did you,” Mike mused, resting his elbows on his knees with puzzled look. “The rest of us saw him one-on-one, but you never did.”
Richie cleared his throat. “I did, actually.”
Eddie leaned away so he could glare at him. “You never told me that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Richie said waspishly, not looking at Eddie. “I didn’t tell anybody.”
“D-did it have to do with your token?” Bill asked.
“Yes.” Richie drew in a long, shaky breath and retracted his arm from behind Eddie, clasping his hands together the way he did when he was really nervous. “Okay. Here goes. It was when we were all mad at each other and I was at the arcade with this kid, Henry Bowers’s cousin. We were playing Street Fighter, and Henry saw me and called me a—a big homo and chased me out of the arcade, and I was upset so I went to Bassey Park and I closed my eyes, and all of a sudden Paul fucking Bunyan had giant teeth and was throwing gay slurs at me too, and then he tried to eat me. Just a normal afternoon in Derry. I never told anybody about it because—because I didn’t want you to know.”
They were all quiet, faces pinched with various shades of concern—except for Stan, who was nodding slightly. You knew, Eddie thought. Or suspected. Something. Eddie grabbed Richie’s hand where it was tugging at the Velcro pocket of his stupid shorts and slid their fingers together.
“That I’m gay,” Richie added. “In case that went over your heads.”
“It made you feel like you couldn’t tell us?” Ben said. “Couldn’t tell anybody?”
Eddie was suddenly grateful for Ben, who actually was kind and gentle, and who knew Richie well enough to get at the real root of it, which was more than Eddie felt he could do at the moment.
“Yeah, but I was already a pro at repressing that shit,” Richie said. He grinned without any humor behind it. He was squeezing Eddie’s hand very hard. “I knew when I was like six, but you don’t walk around being gay in Derry. You saw what happened to that poor kid the week before we got there. I got my ass kicked enough. I wasn’t trying to get murdered, and I sure as hell didn’t want to drag any of you down with me.”
“I’m glad you told us, honey,” Bev said. Don’t be nice to him, Eddie thought. You have to ignore it and then wait until he’s calmed down again to talk about it, or he’ll freak.
“Well,” Richie said tightly. “It’s been real.”
He stood and dashed toward what Eddie hoped was the bathroom. Patty looked alarmed.
“Is he leaving?” she asked.
“No, he just went to throw up,” Stan said. “He does that.”
“I’ll get him,” Eddie said. He squeezed Stan’s shoulder on his way past, and Stan gripped his hand. It was strange; the urge was so outside the boundaries of his interaction with other people now, as an adult. He wouldn’t have dreamed of even patting any of his work friends on the back, not for any reason at all. But Stan? Of course he was going to touch Stan. He loved him.
“Can you let me in, Rich?” he asked at the bathroom door. God, he hoped this wasn’t the bathroom Stan had died in. He knew it technically hadn’t happened, but even the thought of it made him want to scream.
“Hold on.” The doorknob clicked and Eddie slowly pushed it open, and he saw Richie sitting beside the toilet, knees drawn up to his chest. The toilet was still running as if he had just flushed it. As a default stress response, vomiting was disgusting, but Eddie preferred it to seeing him cry, which he was also doing.
He sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor as close to Richie as he could get, shoving his way under Richie’s bent legs and kissing his bare knee. “You feel better?”
“No,” Richie choked out. Eddie reached for the toilet paper roll and grabbed some tissue, shoving it into his hand.
“That was really hard, what you told them,” he said.
“I hate it,” Richie said. He was crying hard enough still that his chest caught and shuddered up and down with his jagged breathing, which made everything he said sound painful. “I should be able to tell them.”
“Fuck what you should be able to do. An alien clown demon made us forget our childhoods. Everything else is out the window,” Eddie said. He wanted to wrap his entire body around Richie like a forcefield and suddenly wondered if this was what his mother and Myra had felt for him, this deep, wretched desire to do whatever it took to keep him safe and protect him from anything that might hurt him. It frightened him how strong the urge was and how easy it might be to go too far with it. He imagined himself five years in the future, keeping track of Richie’s every movement, making charts about his sleep patterns, and shut his eyes tight because it was very easy to see that happening, and easy to see Richie hating him for it. If that was the kind of love he had in him, there was no way he could ever be with anyone.
“I’m a fucking coward, Eds,” Richie said. His face was scrunched up and wet and red and he looked like nothing would ever be okay again, and Eddie loved him and hated himself for the panic starting to swamp his brain. He shoved it down frantically and tried to focus on Richie.
“Rich, please,” he gasped. Fucking great, he thought, hearing the whistle in his breath. He’d managed to go so long without an asthma attack that he had almost convinced himself he would never need the inhaler again, but all it took was Richie crying and his lungs started to close up on him, his heart galloping unevenly, the little voice in his head whispering You’re dying. This is you dying right now. Back to the beginning, no progress. It has been 0 days since our last psychosomatic breakdown.
Richie heard the whistling too and sat up straighter, reaching for him. “Eds,” he said, sniffling, and Eddie grabbed his hand and put it on his chest the way he had done the night before, the way he had always done. Richie’s big, warm palms had always soothed him, forcing him to notice something outside his own broken little self.
“Please don’t say you’re a coward, Rich,” he wheezed. “Please, okay? You told me you loved me—you kissed me, right there in public, in Derry. You did that even after all the horrible shit you went through in that town. So don’t call yourself a coward, you fucking asshole.”
He pressed Richie’s hand down hard on his chest and closed his eyes as his lungs squeezed in even harder, forcing the air out of him.
“Breathe—with me,” he said in big, harsh gulps. “We can both—calm down—okay?”
“Okay, yeah,” Richie said. “Like we used to.”
He traced a circle on Eddie’s chest with his thumb, six seconds around one way, a pause, six seconds around the other way. Eddie found himself focusing on Richie’s fingers and the sound of his voice more than his own body. His doctor had told him once to try counting things in his immediate vicinity when he started to feel his asthma getting bad. At the time it hadn’t worked, but he found it helping now, counting Richie’s fingers one, two, three, four, five and the freckles on the back of his arm one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and the buttons on Richie’s shirt, also seven, and then the band of pressure around his chest loosened.
“Good?” Richie asked.
He nodded, although it was only better, not good yet. Good would take a while. “You all right?” he asked, and Richie shook his head and then sort of nodded. “You did a crazy brave thing and you decompressed, and now we can go back out there and tell the rest of the story to Stan’s very nice confused wife.”
“They don’t hate me, right?” Richie asked, wiping his nose. “I know they don’t, but they don’t, right?”
Eddie wondered if this was what people meant when they talked about hearts breaking. It felt a little more like his stomach was breaking, if he had to be honest, but either way it hurt. He thought of Richie as a kid, gangly and awkward and projecting not giving a fuck with every ounce of energy he had except when it mattered, because he did give a fuck, he gave every fuck that was out there. He thought about that kid keeping the secret of his life, the secret of himself, the secret of his love, and his stomach and all his other organs broke.
“No,” he said, kneeling on the floor and pulling Richie close. “You think it even breaks the top one hundred most annoying things about you? Remember the month you were trying to learn how to do the Alf voice? I still want to kill you for that.”
“Alf and I were always so misunderstood.” Richie sighed against Eddie’s shirt. “It doesn’t bother you at all if they think you’re gay, Eds?”
“I don’t know how I feel about that yet,” he admitted. “But I know that if I am, they love me. I mean, just because they love me in general, and also because normal people don’t think differently of other people if they’re gay. I’m not a great judge of what normal people do, but that one I’m pretty sure about.”
“I totally get and believe everything you’re saying,” Richie said. “But I also think you’re lying and that everyone hates me.”
“Okay,” Eddie said, standing up and pulling Richie to his feet. “The only thing that’s going to help with that is being around them so they can show you they don’t hate you, until you believe it.”
“Or,” Richie said. “Hear me out. We could run out the door and drive to L.A., hole up in my apartment, and never talk to anyone again.”
“You’re not rich enough to become an eccentric hermit,” Eddie said, and caught Richie before he opened the door. “Wash your hands. You just touched a toilet seat and sat on a bathroom floor, what the fuck.”
“No, listen,” Richie said, obediently washing beside him at the sink. “We could be non-eccentric hermits. I don’t have to collect your toenail clippings.”
“You come near my toenails, I’ll cut your fingers off.”
“Now who’s Howard Hughes, huh?” Richie said as they came back into the living room.
Everyone had shifted until they were sitting on the floor around the coffee table, closer together so they could see whatever pictures Mike was showing them on his phone. Eddie settled down with his back against the love seat and waited for Richie to break the awkwardness, which he was incapable of not doing.
“Sorry, minor breakdown,” he said instantly. “How are you doing, Patty? Feeling like your husband grew up with some head cases?”
Patty gave him a small smile, which faded as she appeared to think over the question. “I know Stanley always tells me the truth,” she said. “So I knew that whatever he was telling me, no matter how strange it sounded, he believed it was true. And there are six other people here who believe it too, and all of you seem to be of sound mind.”
“That’s generous,” Richie said. “I appreciate that.”
“But most of all, I’ve always known something was wrong,” she said. “Not with us. Around us. Around…Stanley.”
“You never said that,” Stan whispered.
“Saying it makes it real,” she replied. “It was never anything I could pin down. It wasn’t Stanley himself, but maybe…maybe like there was something acting on him? I can’t explain it, but hearing what you’re saying, instead of it sounding crazier with each story, I feel like it’s making more sense.”
“God, we should start a podcast,” Richie said. “We’re so convincing.”
“If you start a podcast, I will go back to Maine and resurrect the clown so he makes me forget you again,” Eddie said. Richie turned to him and gave him that smile, Eddie’s favorite, the one that said Eddie had gotten him good and he liked it.
“If you could stop picking at each other for a few seconds, I do have some questions,” Stan said. “What happened? How did you bring me back? How do you know It’s dead for good?”
“We held It’s heart in our h-hands and crushed it,” Bill said. “You said you could f-feel it, Stanley. It’s dead.”
Stan nodded. “I do know it, but I won't know until you tell me everything. So how did you bring me back?”
“Are you sure you want to hear all of it, Patty?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “If he has to know it, so do I.”
They looked at each other uneasily. Eddie didn’t even know where to start. With the phone calls? With the fortune cookies? With fucking Neibolt Street, again?
“It was Mike’s fault,” Richie said.
“False. I can already tell it was yours,” Stan said.
“Actually,” Richie said, wrinkling his nose. “It was yours. I was in the deadlights—”
“Of course you were.”
“What the fuck do you mean, of course,” Richie sputtered. “Why are you acting like it’s a character flaw? Bev got stuck in them too.”
“Even without knowing what happened, I know you ran straight at them,” Stan said. “Am I wrong?”
Richie opened his mouth and then closed it again. “I don’t remember. Eddie and I ran away from the Pomeranian—”
“I’m sorry, the what?” Stan asked.
“—and then the next thing I remember, I was sitting in your old bedroom talking to you, and you were telling me to get Eddie out of the way.”
“He did it to save me,” Mike said quietly. “He threw a rock at the clown to get It’s attention.”
“I did?” Richie asked.
“Yes, and then It got you,” Eddie said, closing his eyes. The afternoon heat had started to resolve into a thunderstorm, and the light in the room had dimmed, the air muffled and expectant. There was a bright starburst of light in his memory of seeing Richie floating in the air, his body blocking Eddie from the clown, from the deadlights. The wave of fear and horror that had washed over him was so much stronger than the one that had paralyzed him when Richie was being attacked by Spider-Stan, and he had had one thunderous, wild thought—not this time, motherfucker—and everything after that was instinct.
He went somewhere so strange and awful and I could feel it. I wanted to kill It because I thought It had driven him insane, he thought, and turned to bury his face in Richie’s shoulder, shivering.
Richie patted him gently and said, “When I was in the deadlights, you told me Eddie was gonna die if I didn’t get him out of the way immediately, and you were right—he almost bit it because of that fucking claw. You saved him. If you had been with us, if it hadn’t happened exactly like that, Eddie would have died.”
“Can you please stop saying that?” Eddie mumbled into his shirt.
“Sorry, Eddie would have been slightly less than alive,” Richie said. “You also told me, Stanley, that we needed to perform a ritual. I thought you meant the one we had just tried, the one that totally shit the bed, but no. Stan the Man wanted a fuck party.”
“What,” Stan said. “I wanted a what.”
They were silent for a second before Bev started to laugh. Eddie remembered that it was always Bev who caught the giggles first, and for some reason it was so contagious that the rest of them would follow fast. This time was no different; it cascaded through each of them until even Eddie was laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
“Wait,” Stan said, which only made it worse.
“It’s your own fault, Stan. You did this,” Ben said, sighing and wiping his eyes before he burst into another long laugh.
“Let me read between the lines here,” Stan said, holding up a hand. “Are you saying you brought me back to life via orgy?”
“Technically, it was a fertility ritual,” Mike said.
“Oh my god,” Stan said, and that set them off again.
“You must have really wanted to bring him back,” Patty said when they had calmed a little bit.
“We really did.” Bev reached across the table and grasped Patty’s hand for a moment. Her cheeks were pink, eyes too bright. “We would have done anything.”
“Okay,” Stan said shakily. He swallowed a few times and set his beer down on the coffee table with a click. “That’s a lot. I mean, how did you even…?”
“We will not be providing details,” Eddie said.
Stan narrowed his eyes at Richie. “Not even you, Trashmouth?”
Richie made a sharp, dismissive noise. “Especially not me, man. I’m gonna repress the fuck out of that entire night, although I’m not sure I can forget Bill’s sex noises.”
“Richie,” Bill said.
“I’m just saying, you’re not quiet.”
“Oh, fuck you.” Bill threw the paper he’d been steadily peeling off the beer bottle at Richie’s head.
“No, he’s right,” Eddie said. “That shit will haunt my dreams.”
“Get your neighbors a fruit basket,” Richie said.
Bill threw up his hands, looking at the others. “Wh—”
“Anyway,” Stan said. “What’s next? What do we do?”
“I don’t think we have to do anything,” Mike said slowly. “Except…live.”
Bill laughed, harsh and choked, pushing his fingers through his hair.
“We have a chance to do better,” Mike said, rubbing Bill’s back as he stayed slumped with his hands covering his face. “We have a chance to be whole the way we weren’t before.”
“We’re still missing a piece here,” Richie said. “Stanley. Can we talk about it? Should we?”
The room felt airless all of a sudden. Eddie wanted to glare at Richie, but as always, he was sort of grateful Richie was there to say the things no one else would say.
“Yes,” Stan said on a sigh. He looked tight, like he was holding himself together with great strength. “Yeah, I think I can talk about it.”
“Good, man, but first things first,” Richie said. Bev shot Eddie a startled look, shaking her head, and Eddie put his hands up because no, he didn’t know what Richie was about to ask, and did it fucking look like he could stop him? “Are you safe? Is it gonna happen again?”
“No, it won’t happen again,” Stan said, and his face collapsed. He put his hand over his eyes for a moment, echoing Bill, and then straightened, his features smoothing out. “It’s dead. It can’t get me a second time.”
“Is that what happened? It got you?” Ben asked. “Beverly said if we didn’t kill It, all of us would…We’d all die like that, one by one.”
“I saw it happen,” Bev said when Stan shot her a narrow look. “Go on. I’ll explain later.”
“I remembered everything when Mike called,” Stan continued. “Everything, all the dead kids, the blood in Bev’s bathroom, the lady with the teeth, the house on Neibolt Street, the sewer. As soon as he said, ‘It’s Mike, from Derry,’ it was like this big bloody red siren started going off in my head and it was just IT, IT, IT, IT until my mind went black. I think…I think I went insane.”
Eddie looked at Patty. She wasn’t watching Stanley, but was staring at nothing in the direction of the carpet somewhere around Eddie’s feet, her face slack. Listening to Stanley now, the anger he had felt was starting to dissipate and fall away, because he could almost…well, he could almost see how It might have gotten him too. The blackness had almost overtaken him completely after he heard Mike’s voice. If he had remembered everything right away, who the fuck knew what he would have done? But Patty didn’t know that. Patty had never come near the clown. She only knew that her husband had killed himself and left her behind and she would never have known why, and the fact that he had done it because he had been driven insane with fear couldn’t have been much of a comfort. For a moment, Eddie felt deep sympathy for Myra, who would never have known why he left and ran off to Maine to die either, but he put that guilt back in its box to think about later.
“I have to…I have to make Patty understand,” Stan said, and she and Eddie both lifted their heads. “I need her to know that this wasn’t something I was harboring underneath the surface all this time. Derry was under the surface, and maybe it was always going to come after us, but I didn’t want it to. I love my life.”
“Stan was brave,” Ben said to Patty. “Because he hated it—hell, he didn’t really believe in It, but he went into the sewers and fought It anyway.”
“I believed in It,” Stan protested. “It happened in front of me. I just didn’t understand. There has to be an explanation that makes sense, but I haven’t found one.”
“It doesn’t make sense and I don’t know that it ever will,” Mike said. “At one time I thought I could find that explanation, but I didn’t, and I’m not sure I want to now. I think if I did, it might be too much for a human mind to handle. I can live with the uncertainty. I think we have to live with it. I think that's part of our lot.”
“It defies the natural order of things,” Stan said, shaking his head. “There are rules, and It broke them.”
“I mean, It was an alien,” Richie said. “From another dimension.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Stan said. “I’m open to possibility. I believe a hypothetical alien could arrive on Earth, if that hypothetical alien abided by the laws of physics. I believe there could be other dimensions, but if they don’t follow the rules of this dimension, I don’t believe something from that dimension could survive here. I could never get past that. It didn’t make sense.”
“You’re right, but I think It is extradimensional,” Mike said. “We tried to destroy It with the tools that made sense to us, but in the end, that didn’t work and we had to abide by It’s rules. And even so, even though It’s gone from here, It might not be dead. I don’t know if It can be killed.”
“It’s a god,” Bill said slowly. “That’s what I felt when I was witnessing It’s arrival. That It was a g-god of some kind. Did you feel that, Mikey?”
Mike nodded. “An eater of worlds. That’s what It called Itself, and I don’t think that was hyperbole.”
“That actually makes more sense to me than if It were some random being thrown here accidentally from another universe,” Stan said. “If a thing is created—and I’m not saying we’re a deliberate creation, but if we are—then it seems to me there should also be something that can destroy it.”
“But if It’s the destroyer, that means there has to be a creator,” Eddie said.
“The turtle,” Richie, Bev, and Stan said together, and then turned to each other, wide-eyed. Outside, it began to rain in heavy sheets.
“What the fuck?” Eddie asked. Richie’s hand twitched and he reached out to Eddie, pulling himself back at the last second, but Eddie saw the movement and grabbed his hand anyway.
“I didn’t mean to say that,” Richie whispered, loudly enough for everyone to hear, though it was directed at Eddie. He had gone very pale and his arms were covered in big goose bumps. His fingers were freezing. Poor circulation is no joke, Eddie thought before he shut that panicky voice down and used both his hands to rub warmth into Richie’s skin.
“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out,” he said.
“I have a theory,” Bev said. She was curled up beside Ben, but alone in that way Eddie remembered from long ago, like she had drawn an invisible line around herself. “I—Jesus.”
“Wh—” Eddie began, but the pain in his palm startled a shout out of him instead. It was sharp, slicing through the thin layers of skin, and so familiar. He knew before he brought his hand to his face that blood would be welling up through the flayed flesh of his palm because it had happened before, because he had looked at it and away while Bill was cutting him and then—
“Grab hands,” Richie said, in the same voice he had used in the ritual, when the lights had gone out. “Bill, come here.”
Bill scrambled across the room to grab Richie, and Eddie reached for Mike before he even thought about it. During the resurrection ritual, as he had watched the light inside them reach out and create Stanley's shape in the darkness, he had thought nothing could be more powerful—but now he realized it was like a broken power line. This here, with the seven of them, was real power. The moment Stan took Bill’s hand and the circle was complete he
is in the cistern again and wonders if he ever left. He’s supposed to be here forever, isn’t he? He was supposed to die here and something got in the way, or maybe he’s been living out the last few moments of his life, as the oxygen leaves his brain, in a gorgeous fantasy where he has the love he never allowed himself to dream of and the friends of his childhood and a future open and free and beautiful.
The seven of them are watching a frozen tableau, Richie floating in the air and staring into the deadlights, eyes glazed over and mouth open like he’s dead, Eddie behind him with his arm drawn back to throw the fence post. The light is like an oil spill on a parking lot, a noxious rainbow.
“I think you have to talk to me, Stanley,” Richie says. “Go talk to me. Tell me what I have to do.”
Stan breaks free and walks toward Richie’s body, pulling him down by the foot.
“Richie,” he says, and it’s so quiet in the stillness, but Richie’s eyes clear and he looks down at Stan.
“Stanley?” he asks, his voice cracking.
“I have important things to tell you and not a lot of time, so I’m going to beep-beep you, preemptively,” Stan says.
Richie grabs for Stan’s hand and he nods, sweet and trusting as a child. “Okay. I’ll be quiet.”
“There’s a ritual,” Stan begins, and as he speaks to Richie, Eddie realizes the scene isn’t completely frozen. The clown’s eyes are moving. It’s watching the six of them, watching Stan speaking to Richie.
“It can see you, Stanley. Hurry,” Eddie cries. Stan glances over Richie’s shoulder at the Eddie whose body is captured in mid-throw.
“Time’s almost up,” Stan says. “As soon as you open your eyes, grab Eddie and run for it.”
“Stan,” Richie says, plaintive. He loves Stanley so much, Eddie thinks, loves him like no one else. There’s no jealousy in it, because he loves Stanley like no one else too.
“I know. Listen to me though. The clown is going to impale Eddie if you don’t get him out of the way immediately. Please tell me you’re paying attention to my words.”
And suddenly they’re watching it happen. As Stanley talks, the scene un-pauses—Eddie throws the fence post and it pierces the barrier of the deadlights. The clown staggers, falling back onto the cistern, which punctures It in a heavy, thick burst. Eddie remembers the elation of that moment—that he, Eddie Kaspbrak! Eddie, too scared to even say no to his wife! He—he!—saved Richie and killed It!—but this time Richie doesn’t yank him nearly off his feet and drag him to safety. This time, as Richie blinks up at him, reaches for him, his face confused and naked and wondering, the clown’s claw comes down and stabs him straight through.
It’s a very strange thing to watch his own body move independently of him, and even stranger to watch it be dealt a mortal blow, pierced like a fly by a spider, his own blood and organs splattering onto Richie. Beside him, Richie screams like he’s the one dying, and doesn’t stop screaming. Eddie wants to pull him close, but he can’t stop watching. That’s him dying. It can’t be undone. He’s going to die in minutes. No medical intervention could stop it; the claw must have destroyed his spine and at least one of his lungs, his stomach, his liver. He’s already going into shock and oh, his life is over before it's really begun. He has no future or joy or love and he's going to rot here with the clown for company—
“Yeah, I got it,” the Richie who’s speaking to Stanley says, and it all unwinds. The clown’s claw gently sets him down on top of Richie again and retracts from the hole it created in his torso. The blood and viscera disappear from Richie’s face. Eddie climbs off Richie and slides back into place, the fence post arcing back into his hand.
“Just move fast,” Stanley says, and something kicks Eddie in the solar plexus so hard he doesn’t have the breath to scream and when he opens his eyes he’s in the Uris living room again and
“Eddie,” Richie gasped, touching his shoulder, his face. He wasn’t the only one; all of them surrounded Eddie, piling onto him in the little space between him, Richie, and the coffee table. He clung to them, wondering if they were real, hoping. He could feel the hair on Richie’s arm, soft under his fingertips, feel the rug beneath his ass and the hard wood under that, feel Mike’s fingers clenched in his shirt, pulling it until it rode up his back. What was real, if not these people touching him? If all of this was just the last moments of consciousness before he winked out of existence, so be it.
“Okay,” he choked out. “I can’t breathe, guys.”
They let him go, wiping their faces. He held onto Richie, who had released him first but was trembling like they were in the Arctic, and pulled him back in to hug him hard. The way Richie had screamed for him was going to play a major role in his nightmares for the rest of his life. He had never heard anything like it.
“It didn’t happen, because of you,” he whispered.
“Because of Stanley,” Richie said.
“What did happen?” Patty asked, her voice verging on hysteria, and Eddie saw that Stan was holding her the way Richie was holding him. “You grabbed hands and froze like you were all being electrocuted, and then three seconds later you collapsed.”
“I think…we completed a circle,” Mike said slowly. “I think we were on the other side of the deadlights.”
“We have to stop doing that,” Richie said. He sounded like he was about three steps away from really breaking down, though his voice was even. Eddie was still wrapped up tight in his arms and had no intention of moving, and he didn't think Richie would let him go anyway. “I can’t do another power circle or I’m gonna blow out like a fucking Christmas light bulb.”
“Nobody else dies, okay? Promise?” Bill said. Eddie watched Mike slide his hand into Bill’s, and he watched Bill look down at their hands and turn bright red.
“No more blood oaths,” Richie said. “We’re not supernatural anymore. We’re just ordinary assholes, living our ordinary asshole lives.”
“Amen,” Bev said.
But they weren’t ordinary assholes, Eddie thought later, driving to the hotel in the lingering evening mist. They never had been and never would be. Whatever had drawn them together—and he supposed he had to include the clown in that, but there were other forces out there—they were bound fast by a love so deep and permanent it could reverse death and rewrite universes. Even if nothing extraordinary ever happened to them again, they were still living it. Richie, directing him with his phone’s GPS, messing up every third step and laughing at the fact that Eddie knew how to get there anyway, should not know him this well after they hadn’t even remembered each other for twenty-six years. The seven of them shouldn’t be able to fall together, to know each other’s movements and ways so easily.
“Hey,” he said when he and Richie had tossed their suitcases into their hotel room. “I’m gonna go talk to Bev, okay?”
“Sure,” Richie said. He had stopped trembling and let go of Eddie abruptly when Mike suggested it might be time to get a hotel and rest for the night, looking ashamed of himself, and he was jittery and overly agreeable even as he carefully kept his distance. “Get the Bill and Mike gossip from her if she has any.”
“Yes,” he said. “You saw.”
“The hand-holding? Yes. Go, talk shit about our friends, get the details,” Richie said, shooing him out.
He had seen Bev detour out into the smoking area in the courtyard as the six of them trudged down the carpeted hall, and headed in that direction. It was a little unkempt brick block, with grass pushing up between the bricks and a bunch of uncomfortable, wobbly chairs around one rusty table. Bev sat facing away from the table, her feet drawn up, smoking into the night air. It wasn’t quite foggy, but heavy and humid, and the table top was covered in beads of rain.
“Hey,” he said, pulling up a damp chair with a screech of metal.
“Hey.” She tilted her head back to smile at him. “That was a day.”
“It feels like it’s been a year packed into the last week,” he said. “This morning was a month ago.”
“I’m so tired,” she said softly. “I don’t think I’ll ever catch up.”
He waited a beat. “Bev, what were you going to say earlier, before our hands started bleeding again? You said you had a theory about something. About you and Stan and Richie.”
“It’ll keep,” she said. “I want to tell everyone at the same time.”
“Okay.” He sighed and leaned back in the chair, squirming. The courtyard smelled like smoke, but underneath it was the smell of wet earth at sundown, a smell he remembered from childhood when he would sneak out after dinner to play. It was the smell of grass stains on his knees that would itch all night, bubblegum that went tasteless after five delicious chews, the ink and paper of a comic book that stained his fingertips, the firm pressure of Richie’s arm around him while they read together in the hammock and he tried not to doze off with his head on Richie’s shoulder.
“Is Myra still calling?” Bev asked.
“Yeah,” he said. He checked his phone and raised his eyebrows. Only 33 missed calls and 89 unread texts. “I’ll have to talk to her again eventually. In person, I guess. After we’re done here, I think I have to go back to New York.”
“I’m not going back to Manhattan,” Bev said. “Not for a while anyway.”
Eddie looked up at the square of cloudy sky visible from the courtyard, lit pink from beneath by the city lights. “Did he hurt you, Bev?” he asked.
“Yes, he did,” she said, blowing out a slow, smoky breath. She always made smoking look graceful, somehow, and he wondered if she and Richie were responsible for the fact that he had never totally hated the smell of smoke, as long as it wasn’t being wafted right into his face.
He wasn’t sure what to say to her. He wanted to ask her why she had stayed, but he thought he knew pretty well, and he wanted to ask her why she was sure she had left for good, but he knew that too. Finally, he settled on, “It’s over though, right?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It’s over with Tom. I have a feeling he’s going to try to track me down, and if he does…he’s going to get a real surprise, I think. But the problems under it all, no, I’m not sure those are over.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, uneasy.
“I mean,” she said, not looking at him, staring out into the night. “The things that got me into that relationship aren’t gone. It wasn’t always bad. If it was always bad, you wouldn’t stay, would you? There’s something that keeps you there that’s not just fear, and how do you separate the part that makes you feel good from the part that hurts you? How do you get another person to understand it, if you can’t even begin to understand it yourself?”
“You got me,” he said. “I just started to figure out what I want. I don’t think I’m really at understanding it yet.”
“What do you want, Eds?” Bev asked, focusing on him suddenly.
“I want,” he said, picking his way through it as carefully as he could. “I want someone who makes me feel safe and protects me, if I need it, but won’t decide what’s safe for me. I want someone who wants what’s best for me, because he knows who I actually am and what I want, because I tell him and he believes me.”
“Does he do that?” Her voice was teasing, in a gentle, knowing way, and he realized how completely he had given himself away.
“Yeah, he always did,” he said. He rubbed his arms, chilled even though the night was warm. “I didn’t know I could be happy before, and now it’s kind of like…I have to be careful because I could get too much of it. But how can you be too happy? Is that just the old me trying to drag me back down, or am I being really reckless and I’m gonna regret it later? Do I even know how to be moderate about this? I’m either nothing or everything and he’s going to—he’s going to—”
“He’s going to what?” Bev asked, still gentle.
“I’m too much,” Eddie said, unable to explain any further.
“No, honey,” Bev said. Her eyes, in the dim light, were loving. “You’re exactly the right amount, especially for him.”
The door opened and they both jumped, but it was just Bill. He sat at the table with them, straddling the little unsteady bench seat and sighing.
“The soon-to-be-divorced Losers are having a club meeting,” Bev said, putting out her cigarette. “You want in, Denbrough?”
“What are the membership fees like?” he asked. He sounded tired, and Eddie felt guilty for not taking the time to check in with him. They were all tired, but Bill had always seemed like the weight of a thousand worlds was resting on his shoulders and it was even worse now.
“All you have to do is talk,” Bev said.
He gave her a long, fond look. “Not my favorite thing to do.”
“Are you and Mike…?” Eddie began.
“I don’t know, Eddie,” Bill asked. “Are you and Richie?”
Eddie tried not to smile. “I don’t know, Bev, are you and Ben? Did everybody fuck their way into a relationship the other night or what?”
“No comment,” Bev said. “But Ben and I were already there.”
“Well fucking good for you,” he said. “Every time I remember our first time, I’m gonna have to remember Ben kicking me in the leg and apologizing.”
“So you and Richie really are, huh?” Bill asked.
“That’s not for me to say.” Eddie sat back in the uncomfortable chair. “You heard him earlier. I’m not putting any extra pressure on him, on top of that.”
“But you love him,” Bill said, not quite a question.
He closed his eyes, unable to stop the slow, satisfied smile from spreading this time. “Yeah,” he said. “I love him.”
He stood and took in a shaky breath, waving good night, and went inside to talk to Richie.
Where the fun is.
He slid into the hotel room and didn’t realize how tense he was through his shoulders and stomach until he saw Richie was still awake and remembered, bodily: it was Richie, and he didn’t have to slink into the room and hope Richie wouldn’t wake up and notice he had been gone. Had he really carried himself like that all this time, like he was taking up space in the wrong way and was about to be caught? He guessed he had. It felt so strange—wide open, like running through a field—to know he could be Eddie Kaspbrak and it was all right.
“Did you have a fun smoke break with the cool kids?” Richie asked. He was already sprawled out in the bed in a t-shirt and boxers, and the TV was on but muted.
“Bill and Mike are definitely together,” he said, undoing his shoes and carefully setting them beside his suitcase. He eyed Richie, wondering if he wanted to be touched, because Eddie had wanted to touch him all day.
“Tell me, tell me,” Richie said, waving him over to the bed. This is Richie, he thought again, and took a deep breath, stripping off his pants and climbing into the bed. Richie wrapped around him and squeezed him tight for a moment, and they both sighed in pleasure.
“You’re nice to come back to,” Eddie murmured.
Richie shifted around so he rested his head on Eddie’s chest. “Your taste is suspect,” he said. “Now give me the details, come on.”
“Bill didn’t exactly elaborate, but they’ve both got crazy eyes. They’re gonna get married at a drive-through chapel before the end of the year, mark my fucking words.”
“Aw,” Richie said. “I think I’m happy for them. Crazy eyes are nice.”
The room was quiet as he ran his fingers over Richie’s shoulders and Richie relaxed and grew heavier against him. Jeopardy was on the silent television; Eddie idly watched some kid in a USC shirt win and remembered how the Toziers had always turned on the TV after dinner, shouting Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy answers. The television was on at Eddie’s house all day, and his mother ate her meals on a TV tray. She expected Eddie to eat with her in the living room with the television volume down low, while she asked him questions about his day that always ended with her plaintively wondering why he couldn’t just stay home with her and have fun, and him apologizing for leaving the house. He spent a lot of time calculating how often he could eat at his friends’ houses before she forbade it.
“You should be happy for us too,” Eddie said after a while, picking up the remote and turning the TV off. “I probably have crazy eyes for you.”
“Your eyes are a little wild all the time, babe,” Richie said. He rubbed his face against Eddie’s shirt, and Eddie marveled over how warm he was, how comfortable. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know why I don’t want to talk about it with anyone,” he said. His voice was soft and low and serious. It was another new voice, or at least one Eddie had never heard before. He had a feeling no one else had ever heard it either; Richie’s face was hidden in Eddie’s neck, and Eddie sort of doubted Richie found himself in this position often. Or maybe Eddie was wrong. Maybe Richie let other people hold him all the time. Maybe he had spent all of his twenties in some guy’s comforting arms. It didn’t matter, of course, because he was Eddie’s now. Eddie tightened his arms around Richie and scowled at all the fucking assholes who might ever have thought Richie was theirs before. They were wrong, but the fucking nerve.
“You don’t have to talk to anyone about it,” he said, a little more fiercely than was probably warranted.
Richie sighed against Eddie’s neck. “I guess I want it to just be mine, you know? I don’t even mind anymore if anyone knows I’m—gay, or whatever. I just don’t want to talk about it, like, in depth. Do you want to?”
“I kind of want everyone to know we’re together,” he said. “But nobody else gets to know how much I belong to you. Only you get to know that.”
“Jesus, Eds,” Richie said, burying his face further in Eddie’s shoulder. “Every time you say shit like that, I feel like I’m gonna faint or like, come and cry at the same time.”
“Well, it’s how I feel.” He shrugged.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Richie mumbled.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Eddie said. His heart sped up and he knew Richie could feel it. “Since you had to tell me so many.”
“You already told me you were in love with me when I was thirteen and basically ninety percent armpit,” Richie said. “That’s pretty fucking embarrassing. We’re even.”
“No, that one was easy,” Eddie said. “Well, sort of.”
“All right,” he said. “Tell me your secret. I hope it’s kinky.”
“Oh, it is,” Eddie said, pressing his lips against Richie’s temple. “I want to be really, really nice to you.”
Richie was quiet for a moment. “That is kinky.”
“I told you.” He smiled and kissed him again. “I always wanted to hug you and tell you all the things I liked about you. I can’t even fucking imagine how much you’d have made fun of me, dude. I wouldn’t have been able to forget you after I left Derry because you’d still be calling me up to this day to fuck with me.”
“Eds, if you had hugged me and told me everything you liked about me, which I have to assume wasn’t a very long list at the time, I would have died of happiness. RIP Richie Tozier, killed by a compliment.”
“Right, I’m sure you wouldn’t have made me regret every moment of my life,” Eddie said.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed you at first, so I would have been a total dick,” Richie said. “But if I knew you were serious, I’d have fallen down on my knees and fucking worshipped you. You have no idea how much power you had over me. Still have. Always will have.”
“Really,” Eddie said. He toyed with Richie’s hand for a little while, deconstructing what he knew of their friendship and rebuilding it around this new knowledge. The way he had loved Richie when they were kids was sweet and absolute, immature and mostly painless and without any expectation that it would be returned. The daydream that had arisen after he had realized how he felt was so ridiculous it had made him blush just thinking about it because of how stupid and farfetched it was; the idea of it actually happening had never occurred to him.
In the daydream, they were in the hammock—or if he were very daring, in his bed—and he had his arms around Richie very much like they were right now, tangled up with Richie’s head tucked under his chin or in the curve of his neck, somewhere Eddie wouldn’t have to look him in the eye. He’d be quiet, or sleepy, or seeking comfort. That was Eddie’s favorite version of the fantasy, Richie coming to Eddie just because he needed to feel good. Eddie would have one leg out of the hammock, rocking it. Maybe he would be running his fingers through Richie’s hair, or up and down one of his arms. I like you so much, he would whisper. I like your stupid glasses and your hands and how you walk like you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. I love your mouth—
He’d stop there, afraid of himself, blushing all over and burying his face in the pillows. Telling Richie how much he liked him was one thing—he couldn’t stop thinking about how happy he had seemed when Eddie said he didn’t hate him—but telling him he liked the way he looked was a different matter. There was a hot bullet of pleasure that shot through him every time he thought about Richie wanting to be touched by him, or maybe even kissed. No, he’d scold himself. Richie would never let you kiss him. He’d tell everyone and laugh about it until you wanted to die. But later, deep into the summer, he’d sometimes catch Richie looking at him and wonder if he really would freak out, or if maybe he’d go quiet and sweet like he sometimes did when they were alone.
He wanted me to love him so much, he thought, and that heat shot through him again, much stronger now because he knew exactly what he wanted in a way he hadn’t understood at thirteen.
“Well, you know I’m serious. What would you do now?” he murmured.
“Fall on my knees and worship you,” Richie said unsteadily. “I haven’t changed very much.”
“Okay, then you have to be quiet,” he said, and Richie nodded. Eddie shifted under him so he could put both arms around him, stroking his back. “First of all, you’re so stupid.”
“A promising start,” Richie murmured into his shirt.
“Quiet,” he said. “You’re stupid because you don’t know how great you are.”
Richie shivered against him, and Eddie smiled. It was so easy to love him, he thought. The easiest thing he’d ever done.
“You’re my favorite person in the world,” he said. “You always were. Obviously I think you’re funny. Even when I couldn’t remember you, it must have been you I was thinking about whenever I laughed, because I’d have this image of big dorky glasses. I love how smart you are. I’m used to being a few steps ahead of everyone, but you were always right there with me. I missed that the most, I think. I don’t even know how I lived without it. Everybody else is so boring. I like how you talk like an asshole, but you’re actually so fucking sweet. I just love you, Rich. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but I do.”
He squirmed out from underneath Richie and faced him, because he wasn’t a scared kid anymore, and he had nothing to hide.
Richie crossed his arms over his chest and watched Eddie warily, his face tight and flushed. There was a hurt twist to his mouth, his breath quick and shuddery, like he thought Eddie might be fucking with him and he was getting ready to pull away and leave.
“Do you want me to stop?” Eddie asked, running his hand up and down Richie’s arm. “My list is pretty long, but you look like you’re freaking the fuck out.”
“I am freaking the fuck out,” Richie said.
“Because I love you or because I’m telling you how much I love you?”
“Neither, or both. I don’t know,” Richie said in a rush. “I can’t let myself believe you because if it turned out this was a dream, or the fucking clown, or…”
“Or I’m still in the deadlights. If this isn’t real, it’s gonna fuck me up so much,” he said, his voice trembling.
“I don’t know how to convince you it’s real,” Eddie said slowly. “But like…the clown was always bad at keeping up the act. He might trick you for a little while, but he’d want to fuck with you and scare you too much. All he really understood was the worst of everything, so something was always off. Does anything seem off to you?”
Richie laughed, but he was half crying underneath it. “Other than Stan being alive and you wanting me and the fucking clown being dead?”
“Yes.” Eddie grabbed his chin gently until they were looking into each other’s eyes and said, “Look at me. Is there anything that’s not really Eddie?”
Richie’s eyes were enormous and sad behind his glasses, and after a second he narrowed them and reached out with a trembling hand to touch Eddie’s hair, and then his ear and the line of his jaw. It felt good; Eddie half-closed his eyes and pushed into Richie’s touch. His hand smoothed down Eddie’s arm and then his wrist and forced his hand open so they were palm to palm. Eddie knew how much bigger Richie was, but he loved being confronted with the proof, Richie’s long fingers tracing the spaces in between his own.
Richie kissed his palm and then pushed up his sleeve and kissed the scar on his right bicep, long and white and gnarly, from when they were in fifth grade and he had cut himself following Bill and Richie through the path in the woods behind the elementary school. Every other time they had walked home that way, he had ducked under the hole in the fence with no problems, but that day his arm got snagged. The scratch was so deep it didn’t even bleed at first. He had frozen, watching the blood finally well up in fat drops and slip down his arm, and by the time Richie noticed he wasn’t following and doubled back, he was crying—not because it hurt, but because he knew he was going to be spending the evening at the hospital, and he would have to get a tetanus shot even though the fence wasn’t metal, just in case, and his mother would make him stay inside for a week and give him serious, heartfelt talks about how he must never, ever do such a dangerous thing ever again because he could die, did he understand that? He would die and never be able to see his mother again. Richie and Bill had led him, silently crying, to Bill’s house, where they cleaned his arm and brainstormed ways to keep the scratch from his mother.
Finally, without even warning him, Richie took some of Bill’s permanent markers and drew all around the scratch itself, making it into a stick figure on a skateboard. There, Richie had said. Wear long-sleeved shirts and if she sees it anyway, pretend like you were scared to show her your awesome temporary tattoo, courtesy of me. Eddie held his arm up to examine it and said, She’s gonna call your parents and yell at them, and Richie shrugged and said, They already think your mom’s a fucking psycho.
It wasn’t obscured to anyone who looked closely, but his mother’s eyesight was getting worse and he thought it might work, at least until he could think of something else. Richie had continued to draw on Eddie’s arm for the next few weeks, and Eddie was glad because one evening he had pushed up his sleeve without thinking and his mother saw, and then he wasn’t allowed to play with Richie after school for a month.
“I was lucky it didn’t get infected,” he said. “I think you got marker inside it.”
“It worked, though, didn’t it?” Richie said. “You didn’t have to go to the ER.”
“Kind of. She did actually notice the scar after it healed up, and took me to the doctor because she said there could still be microbes.”
“Classic Mrs. K,” Richie said, kissing the scar again, gently.
“Do you believe I’m me now?” Eddie asked.
Richie shrugged. “Guess we’ll have to see if dogs bark at you all the time,” he said. “It all just seems too good to be true, Eds.”
“I get it,” Eddie said, sorting through the last few days. Everything felt turned up to full brightness, between the rush of being alive and remembering himself and especially, especially Richie. “I think I’m just going to enjoy you while I have you.”
“You think you won’t always have me?” Richie asked.
“I think…” He was suddenly aware of where they are, not just the fact that they were on a bed, in a hotel room in Atlanta, in Georgia, but that they were together, that his body and Richie’s body didn’t just exist in the same space but were tied to one another. He took in a deep breath. “I think the only thing that could make me let go of you is you. That’s what I think.”
Richie kissed his knuckles and leaned his forehead on them. “Yeah,” he choked out. “I don’t care how I have to rearrange my life. I’ll do it. Tell me what you need and I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want, always.”
The last part seemed to embarrass him; he grimaced and shook his head a little. Eddie thought for a moment and then said, “All right, then. I’ll tell you what I want.”
Richie perked up. “What you really, really want?”
“Stop,” Eddie said. “But yes, what I really, really want.”
“If you wanna—” Richie began.
“What I want is for you to fuck me,” he said. “If you can focus long enough.”
“Oh,” Richie said.
“And I want you to pin me down, tell me what to do, and—and fucking give it to me. Just fuck me until I can’t even think.” He took a deep breath and shivered as he let it out. Richie’s arm brushed against his and the hair stood on end. “That’s what I want. I want to get off on your dick again.”
Richie pushed himself up until he was hovering over Eddie, his hands on either side of Eddie’s head. His eyes were calm and thoughtful. “You like that,” he said. “Being put into place, being out of control.”
“Not like that,” he blurted out. “No, a little bit like that, but like—I don’t want to be controlled.”
“No, I know,” Richie said, bending his head to give Eddie a sweet, dragging kiss on the lips that he chased after when Richie spoke again. “Not controlling. Making sure you feel good.”
“Yes,” Eddie gasped. His eyes stung suddenly. “I trust you. I told you what I want and I know you’ll give it to me.”
“Yeah, I will.” Richie said it with such confidence that Eddie felt a long shiver run through him again, prickling pleasure all over.
He watched as Richie stood and grabbed the lube and condoms from his bag, then stripped off his shirt, his eyes hot on Eddie. There was a sweet, level deliberateness to each movement; his touch was electric with meaning on Eddie’s skin, sending a shower of little sparks through him as Richie dragged his clothes off too. It was like he had unlocked something by telling Richie he trusted him to give him what he wanted. Richie leaned in to surround him and it wasn’t like being caged in—he wasn’t carelessly doing what he wanted to Eddie, he was doing what Eddie wanted to Eddie. Eddie could hear his own breath growing shaky and rough before he helplessly moaned when Richie finally bent his head and pressed a line of kisses from his heart to his stomach. The way he looked up afterward told Eddie exactly how deep it ran for Richie: this was beyond sex, almost beyond love. It might have scared some people, but Eddie felt relieved. They had said no more rituals, no more oaths, but whatever he’d felt while they were bringing Stan back to life seemed to be a permanent thing between them. He could give in completely here, without the weight of any restraint or inhibition, and Richie would only love him more for it. The knowledge of that made all of him go liquid and pliant and hot.
Richie’s fingers slid inside him and he couldn’t do anything but arch into it, trying to get more. Richie put a hand on his hip and said quietly, “No, don’t move. I know how much you want it, but you have to wait so I can fuck you right,” and Eddie’s eyes rolled back in his head as he writhed under both Richie’s hands and his words. The pulse of pleasure spreading from Richie’s fingers swept over him and he could feel it in each individual part of his body—the crown of his head where his scalp tightened, his heartbeat in his ears, the roll down his spine, the curling of his fingers and toes, the noise of his own quick, tight moans.
He reached for Richie and the sensation of his own thighs spreading around Richie’s hips almost made him come because Richie was so big and he was going to fuck him so well, and then Richie shifted, rubbed the head of his cock against Eddie, and opened him up around it even before Eddie could beg him—and he wanted to beg. That was something he hadn’t even known until right this second, when Richie gripped his wrists and pushed them down against the bed, hard, and slid fully inside him. He could imagine himself saying please give me your dick, let me suck it, I want it any way you’ll give it to me, and felt a certain kind of bright, exquisite embarrassment knowing that if he did beg, Richie would tease him about his desperation, and he’d fucking love that too.
“Rich, Richie, I’m gonna come,” he groaned, tipping close to the edge.
“Not yet,” Richie said breathlessly, and stilled. Eddie tried to move him, tried to get out of his grip, and couldn’t. It reminded him of fighting with Richie as a teenager, the way Richie would hold him down and it would end with Eddie sobbing furiously not because he was even angry but because he was overwhelmed, hard and shaky and not understanding how he felt at all. He understood it now but it wasn’t any less overwhelming, and he was already right there at the furious sobbing point even as his dick twitched, so wet there was come sliding down it into the divots of his hips. When they were younger and he’d gotten upset like this Richie would stop and hug him, and he’d hated himself for liking the comfort, but he really got it now as Richie rubbed his nose unexpectedly against Eddie’s and said, “It's okay, it's okay. I’ll give it to you.”
He tightened his hands around Eddie’s wrists and leaned so the full force of his entire weight was on Eddie, arms holding his arms down, chest against his chest, holding him there while he rocked into him hard and fast and mindless. Eddie bucked frantically at the restraint and the drag of Richie's dick and lost it, coming with an abrupt oh, oh, oh, in fast pulses between them. The release was so strong it hurt a little in the best way, sharpening the pleasure until it felt like it was cutting through the fabric of the universe and pulling Eddie into another world. He shut his eyes and shouted hoarsely through it while Richie, trembling, suddenly slowed and pulsed inside him.
After a minute or so Richie released his wrists and stroked the skin there before he gingerly slid out and wrapped Eddie up in his arms. Eddie hazily thought that he should be disgusted by how sticky and sweaty they both were—his forehead slid right across Richie’s collarbone when he gave into the desire to bury his face in his chest—but first he felt too good to care and then he realized he liked it. It wasn’t just that he loved Richie’s body, though that was a big part of why he liked the beautiful mess of sex with him, but he liked this aftermath, the soreness in his thighs and wrists and his ass that mingled with the all-over satisfaction until he could never really separate them. Sex with Richie was this: sudden, desperate need sliding into pleasure that made him want to scream, followed by arms around him, a hand running through his damp hair, sweat drying on his skin, his entire body buzzing with happiness.
“That was better than last time,” he said drowsily. “We didn’t get distracted by bringing someone back from the dead. I liked sitting in your lap, though.”
“I mean, I can try to arrange another orgy, but I don’t think the others were that into it,” Richie said. He pulled back to look Eddie in the eye. “Do you want a shower?”
“No.” Eddie yawned. “Want you to clean me up.”
“Is that right? Would Sir prefer the lavender soap or the chamomile?” Richie rolled out of the bed and then bounded back in for a second to kiss Eddie, who laughed into his mouth.
“Chamomile,” he said, biting Richie’s lip.
He expected Richie to keep teasing him, but instead he gave that slow, almost bashful smile again and said, “All right.”
And he did exactly what Eddie asked him to do, cleaning him up and then holding him tight after they pulled their clothes on again. Richie drifted off before Eddie and curled in close to him as he fell asleep. Eddie had forgotten that about him, the way he had always stayed awake until he dropped from exhaustion and then wanted to be cuddled right up next to someone while he slept. Eddie had loved it when they were younger and he still did, and now he didn’t even have to pretend he hated it.
“Big needy baby,” he said happily when Richie was tangled all up with him, his face in Eddie’s armpit.
“As opposed to demanding a sponge bath after sex,” Richie mumbled.
“We can both be needy babies,” Eddie conceded, thrilling all over at the reminder that it would feel good to sleep, and even better to sleep next to Richie. Closing his eyes and allowing himself to be vulnerable had never been his favorite thing to do, even if it was good to establish proper sleep hygiene, but he tested himself to see where the anxiety was taking up space in his body and found nothing. He was safe here under Richie, and he could keep Richie safe too.
In the morning they decided to descend on Stan and Patty in a less polite, less organized group than the day before, drifting over in pairs. He and Richie got there first, and Richie offered to go pick up breakfast for everyone.
“Stan’s out in the atrium,” Patty said, pointing to the back yard, and Eddie picked his way past the tidy butterfly gardens to find Stan in a big circular glass summerhouse. It was cool inside, where they had spread waterproof patio cushions on big benches and lounge chairs. Stan was reading on one of them, and scooted over when Eddie came in and lay down beside him. He laced his fingers together over his stomach and watched the clear summer sky through the glass. It wasn’t quiet; there were birds everywhere, a lawnmower, an airplane overhead. But it was suburban noise that Eddie had always enjoyed listening to on a weekend morning. He wasn’t a quiet person, not like Stan or Ben, but he liked the chance to stop and notice noise once in a while, and he hadn’t given himself that chance in years.
“How long can you stay?” Stan asked eventually.
“I don’t know, a few days,” Eddie said. “I have to go to New York and get my things.”
“And go with Richie?”
“Yeah.” He could feel Stan’s eyes on him. “You know what’s fucking amazing?”
“He loves me,” he said.
“Yeah, he does,” Stan said. His voice, normally so even and dry, was thick with emotion. Eddie inched closer to him until their shoulders touched like they were children again, reading comics with Richie in the Kaspbraks’ garage on a rainy afternoon.
They were still there, Stan reading and Eddie dozing with his head resting on Stan’s shoulder, when the others showed up and crowded onto the lounge chairs, in the middle of a loud argument that Eddie couldn’t follow at first.
“No way, it was Back to the Future III,” Bev said. “Nightmare on Elm Street was the time Richie put too much butter on the popcorn and then ate it anyway because Eddie complained, and then he threw up.”
“On my arm,” Ben added.
“Richie puked on everyone,” Bill said. “Except Eddie.”
“That’s a fucking heinous lie. He puked on me the first day we met. He ate a worm because I told him not to,” Eddie said. He could see Richie and Patty carrying food from the house, and smiled at the sight of Richie in his stupid shorts and stupid shirt and stupid sunglasses pushed on top of his head while his regular glasses were on his face.
“What’s up, Losers?” Richie said, setting the food on the table in the center of the summerhouse. “Eds, I got you an electrolyte water and something made of sawdust for your gut biome.”
Eddie sat up so fast he almost toppled Stan out of the lounger. “I will eat your fucking leg, asshole.”
“That’s sexy, but I actually got you an apple fritter and a latte the barista said would give you diabetes in like three sips,” Richie said, tossing him a wrapped bundle and tapping on the cup that said ‘Eddie’ on it.
“Rich, what movie were we watching when you kicked popcorn onto Henry Bowers’ head?” Bill asked. “Bev says Back to the Future, but it was one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, right?”
“Wrong,” Richie said. “It was Ghostbusters II, and it was Eddie, not me.”
Eddie raised his hand, still chewing. “But Richie threw his soda onto them to take the blame,” he said as soon as he had swallowed.
“That’s really sweet,” Patty said.
“Well, Richie’s a good person,” Eddie said. He looked up from his drink to find all of them staring at him, and added, “What? You all fucking know he’s great.”
“Drink your sugar water and stop trying to make me cry, Eds,” Richie said lightly. He was sitting on the floor with his back against Ben’s chair, and Ben patted him on the shoulder.
“Anyway,” Stan said. “Bev, yesterday you said you had a theory about the deadlights. I think I might too, but I want to hear yours first.”
“I think maybe the Turtle—the clown’s opposite, or brother, maybe? I still don’t know—I think that’s how he communicates with us. It’s also how the clown communicates, but it’s like a god version of old phone switchboards. We happened to tap into it, you and me and Richie. I think all of us got something extra after beating the clown the first time, but the three of us, we always knew things.” Bev was staring at what remained of her breakfast, shredding the croissant into small pieces. She looked up and fixed her eyes on Stan. “Didn’t we?”
Stan glanced at Patty, who nodded. “Yes.”
“Wait,” Richie said. He dusted off his hands and crawled across the floor to sit by Eddie, who couldn’t stop himself from smiling down at him as Richie got comfortable next to his leg. “You two saw the deadlights when we were thirteen. I didn’t see them until a week ago, so why did I get the extra shit?”
“I think time is different for them,” Bev said.
“It is,” Stan said. “I told you how to save Eddie yesterday, and that already happened.”
“So whatever the deadlights gave him, it was retroactive,” Bill said. “Or maybe not retroactive, but it happened across your lifetime all at the same time?”
“Time—linear time, the way we experience it—that’s something that’s not universal. And to a god, who’s outside time? It’s probably not happening in the same order to them,” Mike said. “This other being, this Turtle, if he’s been trying to help us, we might just be getting a garbled translation of whatever he’s trying to say.”
“He’s been pretty clear with me,” Richie said. He rested his head on Eddie’s knee. “Save Eddie and Stan. That was my job.”
“I don’t know what mine was,” Stan said. He pushed his glasses up with both hands, shaking. “To die? What was my purpose in this whole thing?”
“You’re the piece that finishes everything,” Mike said.
“And I was supposed to see what could happen,” Bev said. “If my theory is right, something is about to happen.”
Richie clung to Eddie’s leg and sat up straight. “Something clowny?”
“Bev,” Eddie said, his skin crawling. “What the fuck.”
“Not bad, not the clown,” Bev said. “Just—”
“Stanley,” Patty said, in the flat tone of someone who was about to start screaming. “There’s someone watching us.”
Eddie could feel his muscles locking up in fear—it was already becoming familiar again, the way his entire body seized in terror—and he reached for Richie, sliding to the floor as they clumsily grabbed each other’s arms. He could see the outline of someone in the garden, just outside the summerhouse, a small pale figure that was blurry at first before it resolved itself into—
“Bev,” Ben said.
It was a young Bev, Bev at thirteen or fourteen, a big pink cut on her cheek and her eyes enormous in her little face. She stood in the white and purple hostas, frozen like a woodland animal, ready to bolt any second.
“It’s all right,” said the Beverly inside the summerhouse, their Beverly.
“Who are you?” younger Bev called out in a trembling voice.
“You know who we are,” Stan said. She stared at him hard, and suddenly nodded, her gaze unnervingly falling on each of them in turn.
“We’re still friends,” she said.
“We always will be,” Beverly told herself.
Younger Beverly tilted her head. “Will we?” she asked, and then she was gone.
“What the fuck,” Eddie said, scrambling to his feet and running out to the garden. He knew no one was there, but he did a little circuit around the shed anyway, looking for red balloons. Or, he thought hysterically, fucking little orange pompoms. He remembered finding one on his window one morning in July of 1989. No sign of anyone having scaled the side of the house, no footprints in the dirt nearby. Just a single orange pompom, the kind of thing you might find on a clown suit, on his second story window sill.
When he rounded the shed and headed back to the summerhouse, he saw that everyone was talking over each other at once.
“Bev, what was that?” He didn’t mean for it to come out a whisper, but she heard it anyway and turned to him.
“This is what I saw in the deadlights. Right before we made our promise to come back, I told you I saw us when we were older. This was it. I remember it so clearly—I was confused because I saw myself, I saw you guys, through the glass on a sunny day, but I also saw Stanley die, so I thought this must just be a different future. I started to suspect differently yesterday when we got here and I looked in the back yard, but I wasn’t sure until this morning.” She grabbed her coffee and downed it.
“So you can manipulate time and space now?” Richie asked.
“So can you, Richie,” Bev snapped. “So can all of us.”
Richie, still sitting on the floor next to the chair Eddie had abandoned, put his hands up. “I’m just asking if baby Bev is going to show up in the middle of my fucking Thanksgiving dinner in 2025 or some Time Traveler’s Wife bullshit. You said you saw us die. Is that still going to happen?”
She shook her head. “At least one of them would have already happened. Mike was right yesterday. We’re on the other side of the deadlights, whatever that means.”
“Maybe it means no more creepy shit,” Richie asked.
“I think it means no more creepy shit,” Bev agreed. She and Ben shared a tired, happy look that prodded at Eddie's curiosity because it was so private. The idea of the two of them having a couple's language together already seemed strange to him, although he and Richie did; for some reason, it seemed more intimate than sex.
“See, but we keep saying that and then more creepy shit happens," Richie said.
“Sorry, Patty,” Bill said. “I think we brought monsters down on you.”
Patty stood and took a deep breath. “No, the monsters were already here. It’s better to drag them out into the daylight. Stanley, can you come help me make some drinks?”
Eddie watched them go into the house. Stan put his hand on Patty’s back as she opened the door and Eddie wondered if there had ever been a moment in his own marriage where he would have done the same for Myra. It was the most basic act of care, and not only had it never occurred to him to perform it, if Myra had touched him anywhere like that he would have been startled and suspicious.
“Eds,” Richie said. He was sitting on one of the chairs and made a gimme motion until Eddie went to him. He wanted to climb in next to him, tell everyone to shut the fuck up and just stare at the sky and listen to the birds. Standing in front of Richie, he realized with a little buzz of happiness that he could do that. He could do whatever the fuck he wanted. The low-grade dread that had undercut his happiness the last few days—alongside the military-grade dread that had undercut his entire life—was really gone.
“Hey,” he said, and smiled when Richie pulled him down for a soft kiss hello.
“Ooooh,” Bev said as Bill whistled.
“Dude, you watched us have actual, in-person three-dimensional sex,” Eddie said.
“I did not watch that,” Bill said.
“I did,” Bev said. “But this is kissing. Eddie, you like him.”
“I do sort of think you like me,” Richie said. “I’m getting hints.”
“Yes. I’m very subtle,” Eddie said, and pushed Richie down so he could climb on top of him.
They spent the night there, curled up under the blankets Stan brought out. Eddie gave up all pretense and sprawled out on top of Richie, who gave him a running commentary while the others talked.
“Bill and Mike brushed their teeth together,” he murmured. “I don’t even know what your toothbrush looks like.”
“I didn’t know you knew how to brush your teeth,” Eddie whispered back.
“How are we supposed to win at being a couple if I haven’t even seen your fucking Niagara Falls intensity water pik?” Richie said.
“We’re competing? Doesn’t our love make us the real winners?” Eddie asked.
“Oh, fuck off, you hippie,” Richie hissed, and Eddie snorted out laughter into his shirt.
The candles on the table were sputtering out by the time Eddie tuned back in, rolling over so he could be close to Richie but still look at the stars.
“Stay here for a while, all of you,” Stan said when it was quiet. “With us, at a hotel, whatever. Doesn’t it feel like we need to stay together and…I know this sounds stupid, but recover from this thing?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “We deserve to relax and just fucking breathe.”
“I don’t think I can ignore my problems for much longer,” Bill said. He and Mike lay across from Eddie and Richie, and Eddie could quite clearly see their hands linked together on Bill’s stomach.
“So don’t ignore them,” Bev said sleepily. “Call everyone. Tell them what you’re going to do, accept the consequences. We’re free now. You can do what you want with the rest of your life.”
“You think we can just do that?” Bill asked. “You don’t feel like you’ll turn into a sociopath if you only live for what you want?”
Eddie thought about New York, about Myra, about everything he owned that meant nothing to him. “I don’t know about you guys, but I was miserable before. I don’t want to turn into a selfish asshole, but fuck, I obeyed the rules and did what everyone else wanted and I almost fucking died miserable anyway. If something makes me happy, I’m going after it.”
Richie squeezed his hip. “Eddie’s about to eat pray love his way across America.”
“Don’t fucking act like you’re not having a midlife crisis like the rest of us.” He scowled and dragged Richie’s arm around him. “You’d be up to your fucking nuts in mindfulness retreats and life coaches if we weren’t here to stop you.”
“You’re right. I’d be hocking CBD enemas without your calming influence.” Richie smiled against his neck. “Seriously though, Bill. Take it from someone who doesn’t really know how to be happy: we’re allowed to try.”
They were quiet after that, with only a few murmurs as they fell asleep. Eddie was the last one awake, absently stroking Richie’s hair and watching the smoke curl upward from the candles after they were blown out. The moon wasn’t full but was bright enough to lengthen the shadows from the trees around the house, but Eddie wasn’t afraid of what might be hiding there. He wasn’t afraid of much anymore. It’s you, he thought toward the world, which had been hostile for a long time but was a friend to him again. It’s you, he thought at his friends, and it’s you, he thought at Richie, and you fucking know what, he thought with a huge, deep breath, it’s me.