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Believe in Me, I'll Believe in You

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As inter-universe discrepancies go, the Derry Inn is far from the worst Eddie has had to deal with. It doesn’t have the conveniently unguarded bar, but the communal lounge space more than makes up for that; it looks cozy, inviting enough that Eddie can almost picture the Losers Club – this one and his own – all sprawled out in it. There are blankets, for one thing, and the whole ground floor actually smells less like the ghosts of cigarettes past, which is a definite plus. There’s an impressive fireplace taking up a good portion of one wall. That seems like a bit of a fire hazard, albeit one Eddie will only find the energy to worry about if and when someone tries to light it.

The shared anachronisms – right down to the wall radiators in the bathrooms – probably say more about their own Derry Townhouse than they do about this place. After all, it’s still 1990 here. The Townhouse doesn’t have that excuse.

Eddie’s ruminating goes mostly unnoticed while his acquaintances clumsily lie their way into getting him a spare key to the other Eddie’s room. The whole scene leaves Eddie feeling frustratingly useless, but as Bill points out, the lady manning the front desk isn’t about to grant a stranger she’s never seen before access to another guest’s room.

Ironically, his relief at finding himself alone in a space that isn’t “his own,” per se, but as close to it as he’s going to get for now is short-lived, and it’s more or less because it isn’t different enough.

“Fuck.” Even the bathtub is the same, with one small but incredibly crucial difference – there’s no toothpaste-green shower curtain, because there’s no fucking shower. Eddie still finds himself scanning the floor in front of the tub for lingering bloodstains, but there are none. The towel rack isn’t on the floor where he left it. The window is closed. And the colorful linoleum tiles decorating these walls are pink, not green. 

He still resolves to spend as little time in here as possible, a decision reinforced by the presence of a stranger’s pill bottles in the medicine cabinet and a stranger’s toothbrush by the sink and, shit, he forgot to ask them to stop at a drugstore on the way back here.

At least his alt-universe counterpart had the good sense to also pack mouthwash; Eddie tosses it back glumly, careful to avoid actually letting his lips touch plastic, and then he spends so long in the bath – drained and refilled twice because ugh – that the bathroom becomes a veritable sauna.

He does not open the window to air it out.

He does try to find clothes that fit him, and then, failing that, to find something that’s marginally better than sleeping naked on unwashed sheets. It’s slim pickings.

He’s surprised this guy doesn’t sleep in silk pajamas, but then again, maybe that’d be too comfortable. One thing’s for sure; no matter what Eddie does, he’s going to look like an idiot trying to wear any of this tomorrow. Sweater-vests, button-ups, tailored pants, fucking garter socks?

If any of these clothes were less dapper, Eddie would look less like he ordered them online – or out of a catalogue, whatever the fuck overdressed adults did in the early 90s – without bothering to check the sizes or take his measurements. You know, like an idiot. Like a kid playing dress-up with the shit even his grandpa wouldn’t touch.

Clearly, the only thing he and the other Eddie Kaspbrak have in common are a name and a hometown. 

And the pills in the cabinet.

Eddie’s sleep is restless, plagued by tense nightmares. Decades of having to rely on people who only know him as a cheap replica of someone they actually care about. Richie drawn, pale, hollow-eyed in a hospital bed. Long, lonely years. 

He doesn’t wake up in 2016 and he’s still dressed in baby-blue pajama pants that have managed to uncuff themselves over the course of the night, creating a renewed tripping hazard that nearly has Eddie eating shit first thing in the morning. He tears off the matching shirt when he sees himself in the bathroom mirror and replaces it with a too-small tank-top undershirt thing that digs uncomfortably into his armpits. It looks just as bad; add to that the sheer gross-out factor of wearing some asshole’s socks – which he only does because it’s one step above walking across a dirty hotel floor with nothing on his feet at all – and he’s back to being in the same dark mood he was in when they got here. He might as well have not slept at all.

The morning’s one and only saving grace is Beverly’s offer to let Eddie stay behind at the Inn while they go buy him a few basic necessities. Even he wouldn’t have asked to be waited on like that right on the heels of a heated argument about this extremely minor detail, so it’s… nice. It’s an olive branch he takes more than a little sheepishly. 

He can’t help but think, though, that his Bev wouldn’t have made that offer unless she thought it’d be fun. Actually – as part of a weak attempt to smooth things over and not seem like a total asshole, he tries asking if Bev is a fashion designer in this universe, too.

She’s more excited than he expected her to be about that tidbit of information. “I am! And what about you, Eddie, do you also run a limousine company?”

“Do I – does he… do that?”

“Huh,” Ben comments, mildly surprised. “Yeah, he mentioned it. So what do you do?”

Well, now he’s kind of embarrassed to say. Richie’s gonna have a laugh about that – his Richie, and this Richie, too – because driving celebrities and corporate bigwigs around? Looking after cars? That’s interesting. You can make conversation about things like that.

“I’m a risk analyst,” he says, trying to hold himself in a way that exudes confidence these clothes don’t make him feel. He feels like a comic relief character in a bad buddy comedy. “For insurance companies.”

“That sounds like a blast and a half,” Asshole Richie says immediately. 

“That’s a big difference.” Beverly mulls that over for a moment. “What about the rest of us?”

Why does this feel like salt in his wounds? “Uh… Ben’s an architect”—

“Yeah,” Ben agrees. “Pretty good one, too.”

Eddie forces himself not to make a comment about how out of character the gloating would be for his Ben. “Richie’s a comedian. Stand-up.” It feels like it’d be too much of a dick move to tell these people that he only performs what other people write, somehow, so he stops there. This world’s Richie grins triumphantly.

“Funny in every universe. Sounds right to me.”

“You both think you’re a lot funnier than you are,” Eddie retorts. “And Richie is funnier than”— Okay, maybe don’t go out of your way to insult the guy who just agreed to help do your shopping for you. “…Never mind. I think we already established that Bill’s a writer. Mike works at the library, and”—

And Stan… Eddie realizes he doesn’t know. He can’t even guess. 

“All the same,” Ben agrees, politely ignoring the obvious omission. “We should compare notes when we get back. It’s pretty crazy to think about.”

“Bill could have a field day with that stuff,” Richie interjects. “Are any of you serial killers in your universe? You can tell us – how would we report you?”

Eddie doesn’t deign to take that bait, and Richie for fucking once lets it go. The fact that there’s an apparent limit to how much he’ll intentionally needle Eddie is almost reassuring. It’s not the worst note to end this interaction on; after the door swings shut behind the three of them, Eddie wanders back up to wait in the privacy of his counterpart’s room feeling a little better already.

 

-*-

 

“I couldn’t find you sock garters, man, sorry,” Richie says, grinning. Eddie’s been in his own thoughts – thinking of a lot of things; his mother a little bit and his friends a lot, and – and Richie. Seeing Richie in that hallway just off the waiting room. Richie’s mouth had moved and Eddie’s nervous hands had flexed and spilled his little water cup. He just can’t stop thinking about it. Richie had looked scared and tired and upset and Eddie wants to know that he’s okay, and he wants Richie to know that he’s okay, too. Just in case Richie’s worried. 

This Richie is certainly worried. He’s trying to hide it beneath layers of forced cheer but it’s pretty obvious. If even Eddie notices, Richie’s actual friends definitely do. 

“Oh, shit,” Richie says when Eddie doesn’t answer fast enough. “You like, actually do wear garters, don’t you?” 

“It would ruin the line of the suit leg if my socks were all bunched-up around my ankle,” Eddie says, reasonably.

“Holy shit,” Richie says, laughing. “Man. You are…” he seems to rethink the rest of his sentence. “Uh. You’re just pretty different from our regular Eddie.” 

Eddie’s aware. He’s wearing borrowed clothes right now, although he’s still got his own trousers even though they’re disgusting, because no one else is really close to his pant size. He’s wearing one of the other Eddie’s t-shirts, and his jacket, which he feels weird about. The shirt fits well enough, but the jacket was clearly tailored to the other man’s measurements, and the arm sleeves don’t quite reach Eddie’s wrists. He keeps struggling not to pull on them. Eddie’s clothes were foreign to look at. Lots of t-shirts, in plain, neutral colors; plus polo shirts and a distinct lack of undershirts. He has casual clothes, almost exclusively; jeans and soft jackets; though some of the jackets at least had collars on them. 

Eddie supposes there’s no real reason to bring your nicest suits on a trip to your hometown, but he still feels basically naked without a shirt buttoned up to his neck.

Last night, sleeping in the other Eddie's bed with his mysterious future phone lighting up on the desk beside him, Eddie had found himself crying in bed, quietly terrified.

“Richie, thank you,” he says, trying to let his voice show how truly grateful he is. 

“No problemo, Eddie 2.0. This is scary shit. Even if you are in the cool and sexy future.”

“Sexy?” Eddie says, amused.

“Well, maybe not. Disappointed not to see me in a see-through space suit, Eddie?” 

Eddie laughs, even though he tucks his head away a little too, because he can feel his face heating up. 

“God, that’s what gets a laugh out of you, huh?” When he raises his eyes, Richie’s smiling at him. “You’re an easier audience than the Eddie I’m used to.” 

“I think we’re...really different,” Eddie says. He’s thinking of Eddie’s depressing closet and his flashing telephone. “I guess that’s pretty weird for you.”

“Weirder for you, man,” Richie says, but when Eddie meets his eyes he frowns and then shrugs. “Yeah. But then this whole fuckin’ place is weird, right? Fucking Derry.” 

In the future, everyone swears a lot. Eddie chews his lip. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“What’s up?” Richie says. He switches almost immediately into what Eddie figures is his Serious Mode, setting the newly purchased clothing down on the bed. 

Eddie picks up Eddie’s telephone and holds it towards Richie in the way he watched Bill do before, trying not to cover the screen with his fingers. The little light in the corner is still blinking. 

“All last night the screen was flashing on and off,” Eddie explains. “And now there’s still a little light there. Does that mean he’s getting messages?”

“Yeah,” Richie says. He sits on the bed, and rubs a hand over his face. “Ugh, fuck. Lots of messages.” He takes the phone gently from Eddie’s hand and taps the home button, swiping something down and peering at it.

“I thought it was locked?”

“Oh, it is, I’m just looking at the message previews...it doesn’t matter. God, this is a lot, I hope it didn’t keep you up.”

“No,” Eddie says. It was not the sci-fi that made it hard to sleep. “Um,” he says, and then hesitates. Is this too personal? It’s about himself, but actually, it isn’t. 

“Is it his mom?” He says in a rush, trying to get it out fast. “My – our – you know. Sending all the messages?”

Richie stops rubbing at his forehead and looks up at him, mouth open in surprise. Eddie shifts, nervously. “Fuck, of course not, she’s dead – ohh shit. Eddie, I –” 

He reacts as soon as Eddie goes pale and still, and Eddie manages to say, “Ma’s dead?” Even though he knows it’s not his mom. 

“Fuck! Uh, this version of Sonia Kaspbrak passed away years ago, Eddie. I’m really sorry.” 

“It’s okay,” Eddie says. He has to sit down on the bed beside Richie, though. His mind is swirling. He tries hard not to think about his mom dying, for all sorts of reasons. Eventually he recovers enough to ask. “So who –?” 

“On the phone?” Richie’s watching him closely. He can tell. “I’m gonna guess it’s his wife.”

Fuck! Eddie’s mind says. Outwardly, he does not say anything. He clenches his hands into tight fists, then releases them.

Because there it is. He had maybe suspected it before, but here’s a huge insurmountable evidence that Eddie is not the man these people know. And he never will be.

“...I’m guessing from your reaction that you’re not married?” Richie says, gently. 

Eddie shakes his head. He wonders if Richie knows why; if he’s guessed. Sometimes, he thinks everything about him is obvious to everyone who sees him. 

“No, I –” he doesn’t know what to say. He already tried to tell his Losers a version of the truth; he’s not sure he can manage another round. So instead he offers his shame up to Richie on a plate: “No, I still...I live with my mom.” 

Richie looks surprised by that, even though he tries not to show it. Eddie’s embarrassment deepens. He doesn’t fantasize about being heterosexual, but he does sometimes fantasize about being...normal. About being able to leave.

“Shit, man, I’m sorry.” 

“It’s okay,” Eddie says, again, even though it’s never been okay. “I mean, it’s my mom, right?” 

The two of them are sitting beside each other on the bed, but there’s an odd space between them. Eddie wishes it was 1990 and he was talking to his Richie, who’d make a stupid joke right now, or maybe not even that. He’d loop his arm around Eddie’s neck and he’d touch him. Since Beverly and Richie helped him in the water, no one has touched him; they’ve been careful not to. With a sudden and rising certainty, he realizes that he might cry again like he did last night. He bites down hard on his tongue and inner cheek until the urge passes. 

“What’s her name?” He says. “Eddie’s wife.”

It takes a long time for Richie to answer. Eventually, he just says, “Myra.” 

Eddie looks over at Richie. He’s looking down very intently at the phone still gripped in his hands. 

“What’s she like?” Eddie tries.

“Never met her,” Richie says tersely, and that’s that, apparently, because Richie puts the phone down, and makes some deeply awkward and largely unfunny jokes, and he leaves. Once he’s gone, Eddie feels even more alone and more adrift than he did when he – switched dimensions, or whatever that was. That says something about him, and he knows it’s nothing good. He sighs and folds his glasses up in one hand, setting them on the table where the future-man’s telephone rests once again. 

 

-*-

 

Eddie answers the knock at his door with barely restrained excitement. His hair is still wet from his second bath (or is it technically his fourth?) in less than twenty-four hours, and it’s bothering him more than he’d like to admit that he had to put the same uncomfortable clothes on afterward. 

If the clothes he’s presented with didn’t still have new price tags on them, he’d have a hard time believing they didn’t find them in a thrift store whose inventory hadn’t turned over in a solid ten years at least. 

“Wh – uh.” He has to remind himself several times not to be a dick about this, but it’s hard, because the last thing he wants to wear is a vintage tie and sweater vest. And fucking loafers. They might fit better, but they won’t suit him, no matter how pleased Beverly looks with the selection – and it’s a lot more of a selection than he expected, or needed. It’s just. It wasn’t chosen for him, and they don’t get that, and it gets under Eddie’s skin more than it should.

“Thanks,” he manages. It sounds mopey to his ears, too. Ouch.

The thing, though, is that Richie is wearing a big, shit-eating grin and making no effort whatsoever to hide it. 

That fucking asshole.

“You knew!” Eddie accuses, pointing at him with barely-restrained hostility. “You knew I wouldn’t – I don’t –!”

“You don’t like them?” Ben realizes. “I mean, they’re not that bad, right? Maybe not exactly your thing, but you know what they say about beggars and choosers.”

Beverly pats his arm to quiet him down. She frowns a little at Richie, whose only response is shameless laughter. “Richie, really? You should have said something!”

Eddie spares the man in question one more withering glare, then eases the stuffed bags out of Beverly’s arms. He can suck it up. Just one more little thing that won’t feel right for as long as he’s here. It’ll be a little extra motivation to find a way out fast.

“It’s fine. They’re clean and they’ll fit.”

“There’s a T-shirt in there,” she offers. “And a few more casual things, if that helps.”

Eddie smiles at her. “It does. I’m sorry, it’s just – it doesn’t matter.”

“Sure it does,” she disagrees. “We want you to be comfortable while you’re here. I’m sure your friends are doing the same for our Eddie, right?”

The thought of it is a physical ache in the back of Eddie’s throat. “Yeah. They’re gonna have a hard time finding him stuff like this, though.”

“Does everyone dress like you in the future?” Richie wonders. “On purpose?”

“I cannot believe I’m hearing this from you,” Eddie retorts. “Of all people. Because the way I remember it, stuff like the jacket you had on yesterday wasn’t exactly peak fashion even in 1990!”

Beverly pretends to stifle a very genuine laugh with her newly-freed hand. “It wasn’t so bad.”

“Hey, comedians get a free pass,” Richie argues. “And aren’t you a big insurance man? Don’t you ever wear fancy suits?”

“Who the fuck wears suits daily? Even this guy,” Eddie makes a sweeping gesture at the room behind him, “doesn’t!”

If he hadn’t already been making indignant eye contact with him, Eddie probably wouldn’t have noticed the way Richie’s gaze flits straight over his shoulder. In a flash, he goes from looking hopeful to looking like a dog who just figured out its owner was only pretending to throw its favorite toy.

But that wasn’t the kind of teasing Eddie was trying to do by a long shot. He knows exactly how bad it feels.

Instead of apologizing, he mutters an excuse about going to get changed, and instead of laughing it off, Richie gives him an unnervingly blank look. Apathetic, maybe. Bored.

“We’ll check in on Bill and Audra,” Ben says. “Then maybe we can go back to where we found you or something.”

“Or something,” Eddie repeats, not particularly caring whether it’s interpreted as lazy agreement or criticism.

His plan was to change quickly and then immediately rejoin the others, but the click of the door’s lock and the drum of retreating footsteps leave him pacing the floor instead. It’s covered in plush carpeting that definitely doesn’t get shampooed often enough, but on the plus side, it’s probably enough to muffle that noise, if not also the dry rasp of a paper bag shredding along one of its seams. 

Apparently jeans were not included on the “more casual things” portion of the shopping list; Eddie reluctantly draws out a pair of brown slacks he knows will look weird with a flannel and a plain white T-shirt. It’s still better than the sweater vest. He’ll only wear that when he has literally no other choice, at which point there won’t even be any clean button-ups left to wear under it.

The odd combination actually doesn’t look so bad when he reluctantly goes to check it out in the bathroom mirror. It helps that the flannel doesn’t seem like something this other guy would wear, either; Eddie wonders who picked it out.

He also wonders what Richie would say if he could see him. He’d probably be glad they got him out of his dirty clothes, one way or another, because he knows how Eddie is about stuff like that. He’d probably rib him about it a little, too, but he’d know when to stop, and if it had been up to him – and to the Beverly and Ben Eddie knows – it’s nice to think they’d’ve known what to get for him in a pinch.

“This is fucking stupid,” Eddie mutters, starting to turn away from the mirror and the ridiculous kicked-puppy look on his face. Richie isn’t here, and if he’s looking for Eddie, there’s no way he’s doing it in the disaster zone that was his bathroom at the Townhouse. 

That’s a little unfair, come to think of it; here Eddie is enjoying a tidy bathroom, while the other Eddie Kaspbrak is stuck side-stepping someone else’s blood, not to mention the lingering traces of tarry leper puke. The Townhouse may have no front desk staff to speak of, but Eddie hopes it has room service, or barring that, that the other Losers at least offered to help clean it up. He’d have done it himself if he’d ever made it back.

This is very fucking stupid, he tells himself when he catches sight of a pen and pad of paper on the dresser by the window. He’s holding up their investigation for nothing, but what the fuck, if it’ll make him feel better. 

He uncaps the pen and scribbles a note – ‘Sorry about the mess over there,’ but when he straightens up to inspect it, it looks stilted. Should he mention that he knows for a fact he doesn’t have anything a person could catch from blood? No, that’s none of this guy’s business, and besides, if it was him – which it supposedly might be – that would just make him feel worse, because then he’d be thinking about it.

Well, either no one sees it anyway, or a miracle happens. 

‘Is my Richie okay? Yours is an asshole.’

After another moment’s brief hesitation, he signs the bottom with his initials, then returns to tuck it into the bottom of the mirror. 

He locks the room up tight before he leaves. It would be a total dick move to let these people’s friend’s shit get stolen on his watch, and that’s definitely the only reason. He is not worried about prying eyes finding that absurd little note, because who cares, right? 

“Hey,” Ben greets him from a lounge sofa. “Feel better?”

Feeling distinctly caught out, Eddie offers a stiff nod in response. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Do people still get cold in the future?” Richie chimes in. “Or are they gonna invent implants to put a stop to that?”

Eddie doesn’t get it until Beverly translates. “It’s a little chilly out. A sweater might be a good idea.”

“Oh. Uh, sure. Thanks,” Eddie mutters, promptly turning on his heel without waiting to ask about Bill and his wife – or to respond to Richie’s sing-song “you’re welcome – and nice threads, by the way.”

He finds the sweater still tucked into the bottom of one of the shopping bags. Even when they aren’t missing sleeves, Eddie doesn’t wear a lot of these, but there’s nothing all that objectionable about them. It’s green, but the shade is kind of nice. It’s dark, which is more than he can say for most of the clothes he could have borrowed. Still, he straightens up with it just tucked under his arm; he’s not going to give Richie the satisfaction of a full costume change unless he finds that he actually needs it.

Before he leaves for a second time, he flicks on the light in the bathroom and takes a quick peek at the mirror.

His note isn’t where he left it. 

Eddie’s grip on the sweater tightens before he lets it slip right out of his hands and onto the floor. He nearly trips over it on his way in. White paper, white bathroom tiles; it could have just fallen, and there’s no point getting excited until he’s sure that’s not what happened. 

He squats and takes a look around, even cranes his neck to make sure it didn’t just fall behind the sink, but it’s nowhere to be found. 

“Holy shit,” he mutters to himself. He might’ve just done magic. Non-clown-related magic. Well – mostly. He hopes.

It’d be several times as exciting if the magic had also conjured up a reply, but when he straightens up he finds the mirror just as bare as it was a moment ago.

“Might… need a few seconds,” he decides. “Okay, buddy, I’m giving you time to write, so come on.”

Several seconds pass, then a few minutes, and nothing. There’s no way it should take minutes to write a few sentences in response, maybe with a helpful addition about where they could consider going from here, if anywhere. Eddie takes to pacing again, then startles at the rap of knuckles on the door to the hallway. 

As if he weren’t already disappointed enough, it’s Richie. He gives Eddie a quick once-over and raises an eyebrow. It takes Eddie a moment to realize he must have left the sweater on the bathroom floor, right where he doesn’t want it.

“Thought you might’ve flushed yourself down the toilet,” Richie says conversationally.

“You’d like that,” Eddie mutters not quite under-his-breath enough to prevent Richie from hearing it. “Just a sec.”

Richie catches the door before it can swing shut behind Eddie, but he saves himself an ass-kicking by not actually following him into the room. 

“You okay?” he calls. Eddie flicks the bathroom light off after throwing one more hopeful glance at the still-empty mirror.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he says, cheeks burning as he rounds the corner with the sweater draped over his arm. “I was just trying something.”

Richie holds the door for him, which would have been a nice gesture without the added gloating and the one arm intentionally placed so Eddie has to duck – but not very fucking much – under it to get past. 

“Did it work?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie mutters. “Not really.”

 

-*-

 

Once changed into the clothes Richie brought him, Eddie feels somewhat closer to normal. The collared shirts are nice enough, though they’re a little bit big – it works, actually, because Eddie buys his shirts slightly large and then gets them tailored. His mom used to do it for him, but now he pays to get it done himself. It’s a good feeling, honestly; to be in control of his own physical image. Sometimes it’s the only thing he can control. 

So he doesn’t look quite as sharp as he could. That’s not ideal, but it’s not the worst it could be, either. The slacks are too-loose, but not loo-long; he feels like he’s the mildly sloppy substitute teacher at a public school, or something. The loafers they’ve bought him are the kindest touch of all; he knows that he could’ve just worn his rain boots, but he’s grateful not to have to.  

There’s nothing to do for it other than look at himself in the mirror in the bathroom, the one that’s – that’s blood-splattered, because the alt-version of himself was goddamn stabbed.  

Eddie ignores the blood on the floor and the towel-rack that’s fallen. Or at least, he tries to. The towel on the floor is essentially begging him to be picked up, but he’s looking at it like it’s foreign. If he touches it, the other Eddie’s blood will be on his hands. What will that mean?                                           

Eddie frowns. He slides the cuffs of his shirt as far up his wrists as they’ll go, and he crouches down and picks the towel up by one edge. He tosses it in the bathtub, and then leans the fallen rack against the wall. 

The blood he can’t do much about, not without cleaning supplies he doesn’t have. He shudders, trying to ignore the sharp iron tang in his nose. A strategic retreat may be in order. He straightens up and washes his hands in the sink, slowly and carefully. He flicks his hands to get most of the water off, and then takes a moment to frown at his expression.

He looks tired. Scared, maybe. He hopes it’s not too obvious if you don’t know him, but – well. Probably it is. The clothing isn’t terrible, though. Certainly it could be worse.

He’s about to turn away from this nauseating little room when he sees it – a small and unobtrusive bit of paper that he could’ve sworn wasn’t there before. Written In pen in tilted, scratchy handwriting, there it is: a message. 

Eddie plucks the note out. He’s almost surprised to feel that it’s – real, and physical. His heart rate picks up, because there’s a little E.K. at the bottom and that...should be impossible, but what’s impossible right now? 

Sorry about the mess over there. Is my Richie okay? Yours is an asshole. And then the little initials. 

Well.

Eddie stares at the paper, then at the mirror. For a moment, he thinks when he looks up, he’ll see some other man in the reflection. But he just sees himself. 

In the hospital, he’d seen Richie for only a moment. He’s gotta respond now.

Eddie sits on his borrowed bed and cups a pad of hotel stationary in his palm. How the Hell does he even respond to all that? His brain keeps sticking on ‘Yours is an asshole’ for some reason.

Eddie, he writes, don’t worry about the bathroom. I can handle a little blood. Richie is fine, we got him checked out and everything. He’s very irreverent but I can tell he’s worried about you. I’ll tell him you’re okay, too.    

He bites his lower lip. 

I’m sorry you’re not getting on well with my Richie. I think he’s probably stressed, too. Please let him know that I’m in good hands, your friends have been very kind. 

We’re working on finding a way home. We killed the Spider, we can fix this. 

He signs it ‘Eddie Kaspbrak’; not his legal signature, but more than the initials left by the other Eddie. Anxious and acutely aware of how long it took him to write this, he crosses back into the crime scene bathroom and slips the paper under the mirror, right where he found the previous one. 

Nothing happens. It’s not like he was expecting instant universe-swapping magic or a puff of smoke, but – Eddie walks out of the bathroom. He closes the door. He paces around Eddie’s room for as long as he can physically stand to – and then he opens the door back up. 

The note is still there. Eddie sighs. Probably he’s missed the window for communication, which is his own fault for writing too long a note. Still, though. He keeps turning over the other Eddie’s note in his hands, the excitement of having received it starting to set in fully. He wants to show the other Losers. Richie in particular, maybe. He’s still not quite sure he understands the tension that Richie parted with, but…he rubs at his forehead. He’s been feeling a headache coming on all morning; it’s only a matter of time. Well, at least he’s surrounded by the contents of a futuristic pharmacy if it comes down to that, but he wishes his own pillbox hadn’t got so waterlogged upon his arrival in this different Derry. 

He isn’t sure what to think about Richie being something in his life that’s headache-inducing. He’d written ‘my Richie’ in the note to Eddie, because that’s how Eddie had designated them too, and well – it’s accurate. His Richie made him feel so safe, so relieved, in their brief time together before fighting the thing under Derry, and now he’s without his lifeline. He runs a hand through his own hair, reflexively. 

Eddie slides the note into one pocket. The future telephone chooses that moment to flash again, and he frowns and pockets it, too, in case Richie or someone else wants to look at the messages again.

 

“Eddie!” Ben says, when Eddie dares step foot at the bottom of the stairs. “We were just talking about you.”

“Oh,” Eddie says. “All good, I hope?” He’s not sure what he thinks of the Losers discussing him; he can’t blame them at all, he’s been thinking of them all in – presumably – the same harsh light that they’ve been thinking of him. 

Beverly sends a dark look Ben’s way, like he’s missed some memo she’s sent out. 

“Of course, Eddie,” Beverly says. “Hey, look, we’re all going to eat breakfast and figure out what we’re going to do, alright? You’re more than welcome to join us.”

“Of course,” Ben says, and his smile is so genuine that Eddie wouldn’t dare doubt it. He offers a tentative smile back, because that’s all he has to give right now. He’s thinking, very keenly, of the gap between their Eddie and himself. Regardless of how he feels about it, though – he needs allies right now. And the Losers are the best allies anyone could ask for, he’s pretty sure that’s true in any universe.

He bites his lip. “There’s something I want to show you, actually,” he says. “I’ll wait until we’re all together, okay?”

 

The note from the other Eddie gets a very enthusiastic response from the breakfast table. Eddie tries to remind them that his attempt to respond seemed to fail, so they haven’t actually established two-way communication, but it doesn’t particularly seem to matter. 

“Of course he took the time to drag the other me,” Richie says, grinning down at the paper in his hands. “Oh my God! He’s such a dick!”

“And more importantly,” Ben says, “we know he’s safe.”

“‘The mess,’” Beverly quotes, then looks up at Eddie with her brow furrowed. “Shit, Eddie, the blood in the bathroom – and we just left you with it, I’m so sorry!” 

“Oh fuck,” Richie says. “Sorry, man, we can totally clean that shit up today. I’m not convinced that anyone actually works at the Town House, but how hard can it be to find...whatever you use to clean up blood. Bleach?” 

“A bleach solution would work to disinfect it,” Mike says. 

“Oh-kay, blood expert guy. Do you think they have cleaning stuff in the communal closet?”

“I have plenty at my place, if they don’t.” Mike turns bodily towards Eddie, then. He’s got an extremely reassuring smile. “We’ll fix it, Eddie.”

“Alright?” Eddie says, a little nonplussed. “Thank you, but I wasn’t angry or anything. I mean, we all have...a lot to worry about right now.” He offers Mike a smile back in return. 

Several of the Losers exchange significant glances that Eddie can’t interpret. 

“Wow,” Richie says, after a minute. “You really are...not him.”

Eddie crosses his arms over his chest reflexively. “Yeah. I’m getting that.” 

“We don’t mean it in a bad way, Eddie,” Beverly says, frowning a little. 

“Yeah, you’re like his good twin!” Richie says. Mike and the others are just watching him sort of curiously. Eddie doesn’t know what to say, now. 

“Don’t worry about trying to be him, Eddie,” Mike says. Eddie turns back towards him and his reassuring presence. “We don’t expect anything. Promise.” Beside him, Bill nods, and Eddie attempts to make himself believe what Mike is saying.

“Okay,” he says, softly. He forces himself to uncross his arms, and then he smiles out at the table, and it’s only a little forced. “So...what’s the plan?”

 

The only ideas they end up developing are concerningly simplistic, but then, it’s not like Eddie’s got any better ones. The Losers figure that there must be some level of overlap between this Derry and the one Eddie knows – and seeing Richie in the hospital and the note in Eddie’s room seems to imply that there’s some sort of geographical component to it, too. 

“So we’re trying to go to the same places at the same time?” Bill says, frowningly. “D-do we even know the other Losers are trying this, too?” 

“I think we just have to assume they are,” Mike says. “I mean, they are versions of us, right? And it’s what we came up with.”

“We can draw them a map of town as we go,” Richie suggests. “‘X’ marks Eddie.” 

“Yep, that’ll totally do it, Rich,” Beverly says, dryly. 

“Where are we heading first?” Ben says. “Eddie, what are places that exist both here and where you’re from?” 

“I don’t really know the town that well,” Eddie admits. “And I don’t...I mean, I don’t know where he’d want to go. The other Eddie, I mean.” 

“There’s the quarry,” Beverly says. “But you already saw that –” 

“That doesn’t exist in my – uh. My timeline, I guess,” Eddie says, which makes Beverly stare at him. 

“Sorry?” He tries, awkwardly. 

Beside her, Richie shakes his head. “C’mon, Bev, like our Eddie would wanna go back there anyway.” He glances over at Eddie. “You’re sure you can’t think of anywhere?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie says, trying not to get frustrated. “The library? The theater?” He’s got good memories of the theater, but they’re good memories with his Richie.

Richie goes a little bit wide-eyed. “The movie theater?” 

“Yeah?” Eddie says, wondering if he should be embarrassed by the suggestion; if there’s something inherently shameful to it. Is even the town itself so different? 

“I don’t know about all of you, but my Losers and I definitely frequented the movie theater. More than we should, really. We definitely snuck into more adult-rated films than we should’ve.”

At that, Richie laughs softly.

“Shit,” he says. “Yeah, I guess that’s fair. It’s closed now, I don’t know if you know –” 

“Richie mentioned something like that in my Derry –”

“Well, it’s been closed for a long time, here –”

It’s there that Beverly interrupts them. “It’s still someplace we’ve all been. Worth a try, right? Rich, you used to love that place.” 

“Ah,” Richie says, “I sure did!”

Eddie’s eyes dart between them sort of uselessly. There’s a sudden tension there, but he doesn’t know either Beverly or Richie well enough to interpret it. 

“Come on,” Beverly says, and she’s clearly kind of annoyed. “It’s worth a shot, right?” 

“I think it’s a good idea,” Eddie finds himself saying, abruptly. Everyone turns and looks at him. He winces, a little. “I mean it’s – it’s a start, right?” He needs action, movement. He needs to do something.

“I’m with Eddie,” Mike says, and that seems to be something of a deciding factor for everyone. “Let’s try it.” 

 

-*-

 

“To catch an Eddie, you have to think like an Eddie.”

“Please stop saying that.”

Richie squints at Eddie like he’s studying a rare bug. All he’s missing is the perfect miming of a magnifying glass; Eddie knows he could expect that of his Richie. 

“Nah,” Mustache Richie announces. “I couldn’t think like you if my life depended on it.”

“What would our Eddie do at a time like this, then?” Beverly asks. Eddie’s pretty sure she’s just humoring him, but the question sounds genuine. 

Richie shrugs. “Probably go for a nice stroll to help digest breakfast?”

“We could try the creek, then,” Ben suggests.

“Could we catch up with you in a few hours?” Bill interrupts with an apologetic look. He and Audra only abandoned their room at the Inn long enough to join the rest of them for a meal, so the request comes as something of a surprise to Eddie. Audra talked more than he did over their first shared meal, but he supposes she could still be exhausted by yesterday’s events, whether she shows it much or not.

His Richie probably is, too, not that Eddie has any way of fucking knowing. 

God, what if he didn’t get a response because everyone was still at the hospital with him? Something could be seriously wrong if he had to stay the night under medical observation – or worse –

“You two are gonna miss a hell of a party,” this universe’s Richie says. His voice is positively dripping in sarcasm. He doesn’t sound sick at all.

“I hate to miss the grand tour,” Audra says, warmly. “Bill’s a bit knackered.”

Jesus. Eddie would kill to have Richie here right now. Richie would kill to be here right now.

Bill nods. “Yeah, I’ll be more help after I catch up on sleep. Gives Audra a chance to see what’s on TV around here, too, right?”

“Uh,” Ben says, “sure, Bill. We’ll give you guys a call later, see if you wanna meet up for dinner or something?”

The second they’re out of earshot – or maybe before they actually are – Richie turns to the rest of them. “Anyone else think she’s definitely above watching American soap operas?”

Well, anything is fine if all you need is background noise to drown out something else. Eddie sure as hell isn’t going to be the one to say that, though.

“I think she’ll be disappointed,” Beverly agrees, but her tone implies she’s aware of how flaky that excuse was. She looks at Eddie. “So, do you want to try the creek?”

“What creek?” There’s the river, Eddie supposes, but he has no fucking clue why his friends would choose to go there if the goal is to rekindle the connection they had in the hospital – and maybe, albeit one-sidedly, in their respective hotels. He shakes his head. “No… do you guys have a theater?”

“The Paramount?” 

“It’s not… called that, back home, but. I mean, you guys probably spent some time there as kids, too, right?”

“Our options were pretty limited,” Beverly laughs.

“It’s not even open,” Richie grouses. 

Ben gives him a short pat on the back. “Then no one will mind if we take a quick look around, right?”

“The only thing we’re gonna find there is bats and dust bunnies!” Richie insists. “Why would Spaghetti Man go there, anyway?”

Eddie remembers his Richie’s unexplained arcade token and resolves to dig his own heels in twice as hard as this Richie is. “My friends might, and they’re probably not still standing around arguing about it.”

“Who’s arguing, Fettuccine? I’m just trying to help, but if you’re that eager to waste more time here with us, don’t let me stop you!”

“Jesus, Richie,” Ben cuts in. “You can go wait with Bill or Mike if it bothers you that much.”

“No, I’m coming,” Richie says immediately. He takes off down the sidewalk before anyone else can move. It should undermine his previous resistance, but instead it just emphasizes his distaste for plan B – or is it plan C? Maybe Eddie should start keeping track so that he can be appropriately disheartened when they hit Z.

“It’s not your fault,” Beverly tells him on the way. “He might just be upset that it went under.”

Eddie doesn’t see what that has to do with anything; whether it’s 1990 or 2016, it’s been decades since most of them were last in their respective versions of Derry. The version he used to live in can’t be the only one that’s changed a lot. It’s not just a single old theater going bust.

He understands even less when they actually make it to the theater and he realizes that it doesn’t have any of the flashy old arcade games he’d been expecting to see.

Right – 1990, subtract 27 years, give or take… Jesus, their options really were limited. So what the fuck does this Richie care, if he didn’t have as much reason as Eddie’s did to while away endless hours in this dusty old place?

“It sure looks haunted,” Beverly comments. “It’s a little sad, seeing it like this.”

“Tried to warn ya,” Richie mutters, kicking at a discarded fountain soda cup. “Bats and dust bunnies.”

Eddie marches right past them, though he pauses at the door to one of the theater’s three houses long enough to use his sweater as a barrier between his fingers and the handle. The hinges creak softly, but it’s not a horror movie sound despite the darkness of the theater beyond. It’s not exactly an abandoned building, just a defunct one. They’re trespassing, technically.

“Think we’re a little late to catch a movie,” Ben comments, startling Eddie midway through reaching into his pocket for his phone. It’s still safely and uselessly stowed in Mike’s car, of course. That’s getting old fast. 

Eddie sighs. “Did anyone bring a flashlight?”

“If you don’t even have a gadget that does that, the future must really suck,” Richie pipes up from even farther behind them. “Are we done here?”

Eddie brushes past him on his way back out to the lobby. It’s not as if the others are likely to go poking around unlit, rodent-infested movie houses, anyway; there isn’t a version of Eddie alive anywhere who’d do that without a good reason.

“I’m gonna leave a note,” he decides instead, then pauses, half afraid to even ask. “Any pens?”

“I have one.” It only takes Beverly a second to produce it from some well-organized corner of her purse; Eddie takes it and then gives her an apologetic look. She returns it. “No paper, though. Sorry.”

A quick search of the ticket and concessions counters doesn’t turn up any conveniently abandoned rolls of receipt paper. Eddie eyes the soda cup, but he really doesn’t want to have to pick that up off the floor. More than likely, there are still traces of some long-departed moviegoer’s saliva all over the inside of that thing. And, again, why would anyone pick it up looking for a sign from another dimension?

Richie comes over to recline against the counter. It’s the most relaxed his posture has been since they got here. “How about some light vandalism?”

Eddie follows his gaze to a section of wall wedged between posters for Dead Poets Society and The Final Frontier. Huh. There’s a thought. “Are there cameras in this place?”

Richie grins. “What’s it matter to you? You’re a ghost.”

“If anyone asks, we never saw you,” Ben agrees. He pretends to cover his eyes and turn the other way while Eddie joins Richie in front of the counter. 

“What do we wanna say?”

“Ask them to go to the creek,” Richie says. “Where we built the dam, obviously, or there’s a non-zero chance they wind up on the other side of town.”

Eddie almost hates to spoil the moment, but, “We never built any dam, though.”

Ben stops pretending not to notice them. “Seriously? But that was one of the first things I ever built!”

Sorry for not having the same memories as you, Eddie almost snaps. He doesn’t, though, because he has a similar one.

“What about a clubhouse?”

“A what now?”

“I mean, is a dam all you built?”

“In Derry? Yeah,” Ben says. “You built a clubhouse over a creek?”

“You did,” Eddie says. “Er, our Ben. And no, it was just out in the woods.”

“Is something like that going to work, though?” Beverly asks. “A theater is a theater, but if we’re talking about two different places…”

“Worth a shot?” Ben offers. “Kinda wish I could see that, though. A clubhouse. Huh.”

Eddie smiles in spite of himself. “It was pretty great.”

Turns out dark brown paint on a vertical surface isn’t exactly conducive to long messages written with a bank’s complimentary pen. Eddie resorts to trying to warm the ink up on his palm, probable lead poisoning be damned. He gets about three words in to what was supposed to be several sentences before Beverly taps him on the shoulder.

“Just carve it in there. Don’t worry about the pen,” she advises. 

“Yeah, it’ll be more noticeable that way.” Richie has also wandered over to watch Eddie work, his arms crossed on his chest. It’s the first time Eddie’s noticed that while he may be taller, he’s not as broad as the Trashmouth Eddie knows; unless he’s packing serious muscle under that obviously padded jacket, there’s no question about which of the two would win an arm-wrestling match. 

Eddie shrugs off the non sequitur and presses the pen in a little harder where the first line of the first word begins. “It’s also gonna look like something the fucking clown did,” he remarks.

“So don’t make it look creepy,” Richie very helpfully suggests. “Jesus, your handwriting sucks.”

“Do you wanna try writing neatly on a fucking movie theater wall?” Eddie retorts. He makes no actual move to let Richie have the pen, though, and Richie doesn’t try to take it.

There’s no easy way to explain why their friends should try to meet them in a completely different spot – one that arguably doesn’t even exist here. ‘Closest we could come up with’ doesn’t exactly clear it up, but it’s all Eddie can think to write – or… violently scrape. His acquaintances aren’t exactly overflowing with suggestions, either, so he leaves it at that.

“How will we know if it worked?” Ben asks when Eddie takes a step back to inspect his work. “I mean, that’s pretty solidly on a wall here. Is it supposed to just disappear?”

The paper in the bathroom did, not that Ben knows that. The only problem is that for this to go anywhere, either the whole wall would have to phase through to another dimension, or, what? The chipped bits of paint and plaster now littering the loud movie theater carpet at Eddie’s feet would have to float back up into the empty spaces the pen left.

“We could get you and Spaghetti to vandalize something at the same time,” Richie tells Eddie. “Then bam, you’ll switch back and whoever buys this building will forever wonder what that’s all about.” He waggles his finger at Eddie’s note and the mess on the floor. He’s not wrong – to anyone else, it would be completely incomprehensible. It’s sort of a fun thought; in another life, they could’ve whiled away hours in the clubhouse theorizing about a recent slew of ghost messages. Mike would’ve loved it so much he’d still be talking about his personal encounter with a local cryptid back in the early ‘90s, and it would’ve been fine because the cryptid wouldn’t have literally eaten children.

“There’s no ‘same time’ when they’re literally 26 years ahead of us,” he says, but his mouth won’t form the scowl he means for it to. 

“Kinda seemed like there was at the hospital, though.” Ben is eyeing the propped door that leads out to the sidewalk; it is broad daylight, after all, and they may not have bothered to lock a closed building in a small town – a stupid move, anyway, and one that will definitely come back to bite them the second the local teens figure it out – but it’s probably for the best that they don’t get caught here, anyway. Eddie doesn’t particularly want to find out what the inside of a jail cell was like in 1990.

“Oh!” 

Eddie tears his gaze away from the door half-expecting to see pristine, undamaged wall where his message was a moment ago. 

Nothing’s changed. Beverly has drifted over to stand directly in front of the Dead Poets Society poster, and Richie and Ben look as confused as Eddie is, at least until they notice what she’s looking at.

The poster is sporting a new addition across the empty space near the top, blue ink on yellow – and yellowing – paper.

Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

The message reads, ‘Got it, we’ll head there. Hopefully it works this time.

‘P.S. Richie wants you to know we wrote this on the You’ve Got Mail poster in case you can’t see that.’

Beverly reads it aloud for all of them and glances at the Richie standing behind her, beside Eddie as she does. Eddie is too busy reading and rereading the words on the paper to notice or care how Richie reacts. He wishes again that he had his phone on him so he could snap a picture. In lieu of that, he’s tempted to tear it down and take it with them, even at the risk of looking completely unhinged to his companions. 

They got our message. And we got theirs. 

And Richie is with them. Richie is okay enough to be with them.

And absolutely nothing has fucking changed. 

“‘You’ve Got Mail?’” Ben repeats. 

“It’s a movie,” Eddie explains, like that wasn’t already obvious. It does help, though, to focus on that. Leave it to Richie to give him something less stressful to think about at a time like this, and in the form of a stupid, ironic joke. “It came out in… either 1998 or 1999, I think. Starring Meg Ryan?”

“When Harry Met Sally!” Beverly recalls with an excited clap of her hands. “So she’s going to have a good career down the line?”

Eddie smiles. Clearly he isn’t in the worst possible alternate universe. “God, that was just last year for you guys, right? I kinda hate to spoil the surprise, but don’t miss the one she’ll be in in like… five years.”

“Sooo, I’m guessing that’s a romcom too?” Richie says, gesturing at the note. There’s a twinkle in his eye that’s either mischievous or genuinely interested, and Eddie can’t tell which, not even when he adds, “You like those? Do I? I mean, in your neck of the woods, that guy, does he?”

The second question might be all that keeps Eddie from defensively tearing Richie The Second a new one.

“Yes,” he says. “And… unless he was planning to apologize for poking fun at me about it when we were kids, I’m gonna go with still no.”

He leaves off the all-important fact that Richie still never made Eddie go to the theater alone; he even let him pick some objectively bad romcoms more often than was probably fair when he stayed over. He’d make fun, but he never ruined the experience of watching them, and Eddie can admit that some of them even deserved it, a little.

“What’s he like?” Richie persists. “Comedies, right? Just not the romantic ones.”

“Duh,” Eddie replies. “And horror.”

Richie looks genuinely surprised by that. “Wow. Not me.”

“Seriously?” They start to follow Ben and Bev back out the door; Eddie nearly trips on a bit of carpet that somehow got peeled back and left like that. Maybe this place had to close because management couldn’t be bothered to do anything about shit like that. It’s a fucking liability, is what it is. “What, too scary?”

“Yeah, yeah, fake blood gives me the heebie jeebies,” Richie retorts. “Robots, too.”

“You were definitely scared of I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” Beverly recalls. 

“F-Eddie-ccinne here doesn’t wanna hear about that, that’s ancient history!”

For fuck’s sake, if – when Eddie gets home, it’s gonna take him a while to decide if letting his own Richie in on that nickname is worth the risk of him possibly adopting it, himself.

He misses Eds.

“Yeah, it really is. What year is that from, anyway? The 1930s?”

“It was old then, too,” Ben says, maybe a touch defensively. 

“But not that old,” Beverly adds.

“Alright, before we go on coming up with new insults for poor old Richie, what are we doing? Gonna leave our dear friends out of the loop on this one, too, or invite everyone out for a picnic?”

“I don’t wanna miss them,” Eddie hedges, meaning his friends. 

“You said yourself, there’s no ‘same time’ anyway,” Richie presses. “C’mon, whaddaya say? One phone call before we go on our merry way?”

“Two,” Beverly corrects. “We need to see how Mike’s doing.”

It’s kinda hard to argue with that, so Eddie lets himself be led to a pay phone – a fucking pay phone – and watches while the others make the first call. It’s an opportunity to don the sweater, which involves some shuffling of layers – flannel off, sweater on, flannel back on after a moment of indecision about carrying it around or tying it around his waist.

They haven’t been out and about long at all, but it’s already gotten colder. If only Eddie could remember if there was a cold snap in his Derry circa 1990.

Ben hangs up the phone and beckons Eddie over, too. 

“So, turns out Bill and Audra already went to meet Mike. They left a message with the front desk.”

The corners of Eddie’s mouth slip downward. “Are we gonna go meet them there?”

“Would you mind?” Beverly asks.

Eddie doesn’t even have to talk his way around a definite yes before Richie comes up and throws an arm around his shoulders – which Eddie immediately throws off with more force than might have been strictly necessary. Richie holds both hands up in surrender and says, “Hey, relax. I was just gonna say, we don’t have to travel in a pack. I’d hate to miss Spaghetti, too, so why don’t we just meet up by the creek?”

That’s a pretty quick one-eighty to pull, but as guilty as Eddie feels about stealing one of an injured Mike’s friends away from his bedside, it’s not like he can find this place all by himself. 

He points approvingly at Richie and doesn’t say anything. Ben and Bev exchange a look, almost a smile, and Ben says, “Sure, Richie. You guys want us to bring anything for lunch?”

“Food,” Richie says. “Something this guy here isn’t allergic to. Carrots?”

Lunch is the last thing on Eddie’s mind right now. He’s been picky enough about everything as it is – might as well make concessions where he can. “Whatever’s fine.”

Beverly slips out of the phone booth to plant a hand on Eddie’s arm. “Hang on.”

He hadn’t even been in the process of leaving; he wouldn’t know which direction to walk, and instead of taking the lead, Richie’s staring expectantly at her.

“Since we’re here – well, I know she isn’t the same, but would you like to try getting in contact with your – or, our Eddie’s mother?”

A pit opens in Eddie’s stomach. “Uh – what?”

“I don’t mean it like that,” Beverly hurriedly tries to reassure him. “Not out of obligation, just… well, do you think it would help? There’s always a chance she’s not so different after all, right? Or it… might be nice to know…”

Eddie’s heart feels like it could give out lodged halfway up his throat. Whatever he looks like, it must be enough to scare Beverly out of finishing that thought. 

“I think I’m good,” he says, his voice strange. “Thanks anyway.”

Fuck. He picks a direction and takes off in it, and he doesn’t slow down even when Richie catches up and falls in line beside him, just a little more breathless than he is.

“You know…”

“Don’t wanna know,” Eddie bites out.

“You sure? Because you’re going in the exact wrong direction. Just a friendly heads-up.”

Eddie stops and tries, really tries not to glare at Richie. “Can we just take a f- a cab?”

Richie shrugs. “Sure, if one happens past. Don’t worry, no one’s gonna make you talk to anyone’s mom if we turn around in the meantime, ‘kay? Ben and Bev already went to parlay with the others.” He comes within an inch of grabbing Eddie by the shoulders and steering him in the right direction, but he must be genuinely trying to avoid a fight, too, because he drops his hands instead.

Eddie lets his shoulders droop a little in response. “Pretty sure the word you’re looking for is parley.”

“If Shakespeare can do it, why the hell can’t I?” Richie exclaims. It’s so… unlike his Richie, and so like this guy. It isn’t funny – it’s hardly a joke – but Eddie manages a smile, anyway.

He lets Richie lead the way; it’s a pretty long walk, all things considered, and Eddie is surprised to learn that the creek they’re looking for isn’t all that far from where he first appeared. He’d like to think that’s promising, somehow, even if it probably means nothing.

Of course he doesn’t have anything on him to leave another message for his friends, and all his searching yields no sign of them. Just a lot of bare trees, rocks and mud. It was only a matter of time before Richie got tired of watching him getting impatient all over again and decided to try and get some free entertainment out of him instead.

“Is this the same as your thing about the clothes?”

Eddie does glare at him this time; he’s leaned up against a tree, picking at the bark with one hand while he stares at Eddie.

“You’re not big on sharing,” Richie adds. As explanations go, it’s not much of one. 

“Can I help you with something?” Eddie snaps. More to himself but not so quietly that Richie won’t hear, he also mutters, “Just fucking talk in riddles, that’s great.”

“Okay, what’s the deal about Spaghetti’s mom? Or yours.”

“Mine is dead, alright? What fucking difference does it make?”

“Oh,” Richie says, pushing off from the tree to get a little closer to Eddie. He’d take a step back to match if there weren’t ankle-deep running water behind him. The only thing worse than these loafers would be these loafers, wet. “Uh, sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Eddie snaps. “I don’t need that.”

If Richie thinks he’s a creep for not being sufficiently broken up about his own mother’s death – fuck, Eddie doesn’t care, and anyway he could never guess it from the guy’s expression. “Well – don’t hold it against Bev, alright? We only know what our Eddie told us. Only person who’s even likely to have that phone number is Mike.”

“Why would Mike have my – his mom’s number?” Eddie wonders in spite of himself. He connects the dots on his own a second later and barks a harsh laugh. “Oh. He still lives with her. Right.”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” Richie says, voice low. “She’s kinda… well, it’s complicated.”

“Like I don’t know,” Eddie says to a rock sitting a little left of where it had been when he first found it. Richie comes close enough to insert his shoes into Eddie’s line of vision, but instead of speaking he just toes at another rock. There’s not a mark on it; Eddie’s lips quirk down again. 

“What are you actually trying to ask?”

Richie squats and makes a show of inspecting the same ground as Eddie. “Hey, now, I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes here. That’s all I was gonna say. Unless you wanna volunteer anything, like, let’s see… who you live with?”

Eddie holds his breath to keep from sighing. “My wife.”

Even in profile, he can see Richie’s eyes widen a little. “You’re married? To a woman?”

“Yes, to a fucking woman! Why does everyone always fucking say that?”

“It’s a joke, Eddieccine. They a lost art form in your century, or what? Chill.”

“Do not tell me to chill,” Eddie snarls at him. “Yeah, I’m married to a woman and it’s – why are the only jokes you and Richie have in common the fucking – the shitty ones? We have – well, it’s not – our relationship is”—Rather than try to finish justifying himself to someone who doesn’t need any fucking justification, Eddie throws his hands up and stalks a little farther upstream, in the direction of the low-hanging stone bridge. It’s the slamming of the proverbial door that, with any luck, will at least forestall any more questions about trying to get in touch with alternate versions of the woman he definitely made a mistake marrying. 

Yeah, he’s definitely safe on that front. Who’d wanna carry on a conversation with a guy who doesn’t miss his dead mother or likely worried sick, very far-flung wife? From where Richie’s standing, frowning like he’s just been forced to touch roadkill, it probably looks like Eddie’s never wrung a single drop of genuine affection from that shriveled thing in his chest.

 

-*-

 

It’s not the Paramount, it’s the Aladdin, which is weird. In fact, the whole place is solidly different; the layout; the arcade in the foyer; Hell, even the doors. It’s all dirtied and sad-looking, too; a victim of the changes that apparently happened in both Derrys. All of that stops mattering, though, because they find what they came for surprisingly quickly. On a wall between two movie posters, there’s a marking – it’s Ben who spots it first, and when he leans in to look at it, he grins suddenly. 

“Hey, guys! Something tells me this graffiti wasn’t here yesterday…”

They all crowd around, and sure enough, there it is.

TRY THE CLUBHOUSE, the messy, un-subtle carving says. CLOSEST WE COULD COME UP WITH. WE’RE GOING TO THE CREEK.

“So the other Losers are doing this, too!” Beverly says, delighted. Eddie can’t deny that he’s excited, too.

“Great minds think alike,” Richie says, and he leans in, brushing careful fingers over the carved message.

“Should we write a response?” Ben says. 

Eddie’s thinking about the note on his mirror that didn’t vanish, but he still says, “We should at least try.”

“What do we wanna say, though?” Mike says, uncapping a pen that he apparently carries with him. 

“Keep it simple,” Beverly says. 

“Fair enough,” Mike says, and he writes Got it, because they did, they got the message. 

“Fuck, what if they can’t see the poster, though?”

“Oh, that’s a tragedy,” Beverly says, and Eddie grins a little to himself because he already knows her well enough to hear the heavy sarcasm there. As distanced and separated as he feels from these Losers – because, well, he is – he still sees enough of his friends in him that he’s charmed.

“Okay, left that in the note, too,” Mike says, straightening from where he’s been bent slightly over because he is – Eddie’s noticed – very, very, tall. 

Richie laughs. “God, I hope they get this one. Eds’ll love that – they’ve got mail, literally!”

There’s a sense of hopeful excitement thrumming between them that makes this the best Eddie’s felt all day. He was hoping to see Richie again, but this a sign of life, and a sign they’re on the right track. 

“To the clubhouse?” Ben prompts, and then they’re off again.

 

-*-

 

The arrival of Bill, Audra, Ben, Bev and Mike is preceded by their voices, which carry from the road above long before they come slipping and sliding down the leaf-littered hill to where Richie and Eddie are sitting alternating between picking at vegetation and scanning the trees for a glimpse of a familiar face.

“Careful, Mike. Do you need a hand – here”—

“I’m just fine,” comes the laughing response. “Oh – thank you.”

Eddie is positive they wouldn’t actually let a seriously injured man go for a hike on any kind of slope in the very far from sterile woods, and he remains sure of it despite the approaching chatter right up until Mike comes into view, flanked on either side by Bill and Audra and clearly struggling to stay upright without wincing.

Eddie can’t believe the hospital even discharged him. Actually he can, and he’s sure it must have been on the condition that he go home and do nothing but rest.

“Really, it’s fine,” he’s saying. “I won’t have to do much moving down here, and I have these on the off chance anything does happen.”

Eddie lets his mounting concern drive him right up to Mike, who thankfully looks a lot more lucid than he did yesterday, at the very least. He doesn’t snatch the pill bottle from Mike’s hand, but only because the smile he reserves for Eddie is a lot less certain than the one he directs at the others. Friendly, sure, but not as wholeheartedly so. It still feels like more than Eddie’s earned.

“Can I,” he tries, clears his throat and repeats, “Can I see that.”

Mike looks confused but passes him the little orange bottle anyway. “It’s for the pain,” he explains helpfully. “I doubt I’ll need all of that, though.”

Eddie doesn’t try to hide his grimace. “Yeah, no fucking kidding. This is really intense stuff.”

In point of fact, he’s at least eighty percent sure it’s not even legal anymore when he’s from, but that’s one can of worms he’s not the least bit prepared to open in front of a bunch of people who do not need to know about the fucking opioid crisis. The anti-drug stuff he remembers from his childhood was already crazy enough without throwing that kind of foresight into the mix. 

All he can do is pass it back and make Mike promise to take it easy – cut the pills in half, even, unless he really can’t get by without a full dose. If that incompetent ass of a doctor thought overprescribing like this was warranted, what the hell was he doing removing Mike from direct medical observation? Did they at least drive to get here?

“Of course,” Mike responds with a warm smile. He leaves Eddie with enough space to resume his rant before he decides to go ahead and add, “You’re really not so different from our Eddie, are you?”

“That’s comparing a sweet apple to a sour orange,” Richie says, coming up behind him.

“Sorry to hear that about the other me,” Eddie returns. It’s petty, but he mostly just wants the joke to undermine Richie’s low blow. 

That plan backfires, though, because all it actually gets him is an enthusiastic belly laugh and a few chuckles from the others. Richie’s hand does a pretty good impression of a bat flying into Eddie’s hair, complete with the startled yelp he can’t help but make, but he’s too slow to swat it away – or this touchy-feely should-be-almost-70-year-old has finally wised up enough to jerk his hand back to safety fast.

“How’s the other me deal with not being the only one around here who’s funny and an asshole, huh?” 

“By actually being funny,” Eddie grumbles, cheeks hot under the sudden deluge of unexpectedly positive attention.

Bill is the one who lets him off the hook. “Any l-luck?”

Behind him, Bev and Ben are preoccupied with each other and the plastic bags they’ve lugged down with them; clearly, the picnic thing is actually happening.

Good – until Eddie has something tangible, a second glimpse of Richie, or better yet, an immediate end to being fucking trapped here, he’s not going anywhere, so they might as well hunker down. 

‘Hunker down?’ Jeez, Eds, you sound like an eighty-year-old grandpa. This guy’s rubbing off on you.

But not nearly as much as you have, Eddie thinks desperately.

He picks at the convenience store sandwich Ben offers him and keeps hoping he’ll see his Richie walk out of the trees and bushy vegetation like Bigfoot’s friendly cousin. Even Beverly’s first attempt at getting his attention only drags a little better than half of it away from a flicker of movement – a squirrel.

“Uh…” Eddie shakes his head and makes reluctant eye contact with her. “Yeah?”

Beverly casts a look about to ensure that no one is paying too much attention to them. Even Richie seems engrossed in his food – as Eddie learned this morning, it takes a lot to feed a guy that big. Add that to the list of things both Richies have in common.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” she says. “I should have thought better of that before I said it.”

Eddie sets his uneaten sandwich half back down on the paper wrapper it came in. If the bugs he keeps trying to swat away want it, they can fucking have it. “We’ll call it even if my friends try to get the other guy to talk to my wife.”

Her reaction is a near-perfect reproduction of Richie’s, wide eyes and all. “Uh – oh. Wh-what’s her name?”

“Myra,” Eddie says. He sneaks another glance at Richie; he’s not looking at them, but he’s put his food down and isn’t talking to anyone else, either. He might as well have one ear literally swiveled in their direction. For all the good it’ll do, Eddie tries to lower his voice. “She’s probably blowing up my phone right now.”

Beverly chokes on a bite of her own sandwich. Ben passes her a bottle of water, looking equally alarmed. 

“Who?”

“Why?”

“Oh,” Eddie realizes. “Oh, shit – not like that, not like, literally. I mean she’s probably maxed out the storage on my phone. Jesus. If she thought literally setting fire to something might bring me back, she – uh, might. But everything’s fine!” He has to resist the urge to wince. 

“That’s… sweet?” Beverly tries.

“Huh,” Ben comments, a little too mildly for Eddie’s liking. It still would have been better if he left it at that single vaguely judgmental word, but instead he reaches over and gives Eddie a pat on the shoulder with his unwashed, just-finished-eating hands. “Well, if our Eddie’s mom knew where to call, she’d probably be, uh, blowing up the Inn’s phone, too. We’ll get you both home so no one has to worry, alright?”

“Great,” Eddie says flatly. He doesn’t even think to shake off Ben’s hand, he’s so busy stressing about that eventuality. So he gets through this, sees Richie and everyone, and then?

Jesus, as if he wasn’t already fully aware of how far from sweet it is that he really thinks Myra would do something drastic if she had any idea how or where to find him. As if he needed the fucking reminder that his mother, or this universe’s approximation of her, would have, too. 

It’s not like he enjoys making people worry about him.

The shadows of the trees eventually get so long that they fully eclipse the stream and the seven of them scattered at various points around it, a whole party of lookouts jumping at birds, squirrels and falling leaves.

Mainly because it definitely won’t help his rapidly declining mood if any of these people have to finally stop exchanging uncomfortable looks and actually say it matter-of-factly to his face, Eddie resolves to be the first one to suggest that they give up.

“This clearly isn’t fucking working, and Mike should be in bed, not…” He gestures a little guiltily at Mike, who’s channeling his inner Huck Finn reclining on the ground with his head propped up on a makeshift pillow of spare jackets and a blanket retrieved from the car.

Bill sneezes – once, twice, three times, and Mike turns his sympathetic look away from Eddie to raise an eyebrow at him.

“Bless you.”

“Thanks,” Bill says. “Don’t kn-know where that came from.”

Audra lifts a hand to his forehead. “Some allergy medication might not be a bad idea.”

Bill chuckles. “That would explain the r-ringing in my ears.”

“Maybe someone’s talking about you,” Richie says blandly.

“If he’s as famous in this universe as he is in mine, that’s probably true,” Eddie says. The tail end of that sentence becomes a groan as he stretches his poor, abused back. Even his legs protest his sudden transition to standing from sitting hunched over the pile of sticks he’s spent the past however-long organizing into various words, from ‘Hello’ to the first three words of ‘Where the fuck are you guys.’ 

He would swear before a grand jury that the ‘fuck’ was an indispensable part of that particular message.

“He is!” Mike announces. It takes the combined efforts of Bill, Audra and Ben to get him upright without jostling his injury too much.

“Says the guy who single-handedly doubled his readership in our hometown,” Richie says. “Or did you put that display up in the library because you knew we were coming?”

“They’re very popular books!” Mike defends himself, while Eddie wonders if he just failed to notice a display like that somewhere in their Derry library. The one here might just be a friendlier place; he’d prefer it if none of his friends went back there, though, what with the lingering evidence of a violent scuffle. Better to leave it for plan Y, a last-ditch effort before he starts trying to talk everyone into making a second excursion into the sewers.

He’ll do that too, though, if it’ll get him home to his Losers.

 

-*-

 

The Barrens look different. The greenery, that is – and Eddie can’t describe how, or why, but that unnerves him a little. They’re still in Maine, so it should look the same, right? 

“The door’s around here somewhere,” Ben is saying, and Richie says, “Jesus, dude, we were here like literally yesterday, how’d you lose it already –” 

“I was a little distracted, man,” Ben says, exasperated, and Eddie is starting to feel a little adrift again, watching all of them interact like this. It’s just like his Losers, but he knows how he fits with his Losers, and if he ever doesn’t, Richie always seems to sense it and swoops in to get him in a playful headlock. That’s how it was when they were kids, and that’s how it was immediately when they met again, which is amazing in its own way.

Eddie thinks sometimes that his life has stalled-out, that he’ll continue to be alone and listless, at least until...until, well, he’s not living with his mother anymore. So it was nice, seeing everyone again. They didn’t treat him like he’s failed to grow up, even though he kind of has.

He wonders if maybe that’s what this Richie thinks, now that he knows Eddie’s unmarried. He can feel himself frowning and tries to fight it, then is luckily rescued as Ben...lifts up a slab of the earth?

“There we go!” Beverly cheers, clapping Ben on the back. He blushes a little. It makes Eddie smile despite his own darker thoughts; he thinks it’s kind of cute that both sets of Bens and Beverlys found each other again.

“You know, it really is kinda crazy that you managed to build this thing, Ben,” Mike says. “At the time we didn’t appreciate it enough.”
“Hey, I appreciated it!” Richie says defensively. “I know Eddie was always bitching about like, safety regulations and shit, but he liked it too. Uh.” He stops and looks back at Eddie. Eddie just looks back, because he doesn’t know what to say. He’s not going to pretend to know what Richie’s talking about.

“It was n-nice to have somewhere safe to go,” Bill says. “Should we go in? Where would the other Losers put a message?” 

“Regardless of where they put it, where are we gonna see it?” Mike muses. “Can’t hurt to go in, though.” 

Eddie watches Mike climb down the little latter into the dark space beneath. Good Lord, that is impressive. 

Ben’s still standing at the door with Beverly while Bill and Richie follow Mike down, like he’s waiting for everyone to go first. 

“You built this as a kid?” Eddie says. “That’s really impressive. I bet if the Ben I knew heard about it he’d be jealous, he always wanted bigger projects.” 

Ben smiles at him, looking excited that Eddie’s decided to talk to him. He’s not meant to be so cagey, but he really doesn’t know these people and they don’t know him, but...maybe he can learn. It’s a chance at some insight, right? He’s looking at a Ben that’s different from his, but he’s still a Ben that might’ve been. A possibility in time.

“Oh, it’s not as cool as it looks,” Ben says. He’s a little more earnest, more demure, than the man Eddie is familiar with. “The space was already dug out. I put up the beams to reinforce it, though.”

“And the door,” Beverly adds. She’s looking up at Ben with one eyebrow cocked up, a little smile on her face. Sweet as a dessert wine after a nice dinner. “It’s got hinges!” 

“Yeah,” Ben says, and he smiles back at her like Eddie isn’t there. “I did make the door, too.” 

Eddie resists the urge to clear his throat. They deserve this happiness, even if it makes him feel tight in the chest. He presses a hand over his heart, pushing at his chest just for the sensation of it. 

“Eddie?” Ben says. When he looks up, they’re both watching him now instead of each other. “Are you okay?” 

“Oh,” Eddie says. “Yeah, just – yeah. I’m fine.”

“If you need an inhaler, we can get one from the pharmacy in town,” Beverly says, very kindly. “Eddie – the other one – already sent his prescription over.” 

Well, that’s an embarrassing thing to have in common. 

“Thanks, but I’m really okay,” Eddie says. “I wouldn’t know how to use a modern one, anyway.” 

Ben looks like he wants to say something, but he glances at Beverly and she just nods a little. “Okay, Eddie,” she says, and he feels his ears go pink.

He takes a step towards the door. “I’m going down,” he says, softly, and when he arrives at the bottom of the old ladder, they both follow him down. 

Bill and Mike are both peering at the walls, presumably searching for clues. Richie, on the other hand, is sprawled out on the dirty floor, head tilted back and eyes closed.

“Sorry squad, but we’re not gonna find anything. The time travel machinations are probably too complex.”

“Still worth a shot, Rich,” Beverly says. “No luck yet?”

“We don’t really know where to look,” Mike admits. “But yeah. No dice.” 

“I’m telling you!” Richie says. “Time travel!”

“It’s not time travel,” Eddie says, and then grimaces when everyone looks at him. He’s kind of just wanted to be part of the conversation. “I mean,” he says, because apparently they’re waiting. “It’s a dimensional swap or something. Or I’d still be out there, just older.” 

“Exactly!” Mike says, sounding pleased. “That’s why I think the exact place doesn’t matter. We aren’t actually looking for a message Eddie’s leaving us in the past, it’s more like the two planes of existence we exist on are – are merging or something.” 

“Huh,” Bill says. The other Losers mostly look mildly nonplussed. 

“Two Eddies at the same time would be fun,” Richie says. “But also I’m pretty sure if you two ever met it would end in...not disaster per se, but, uh –” 

Beverly laughs. “Oh my God. Eddie would be so chaotic! He’d combust.” 

“I guess he probably wouldn’t like me very much,” Eddie says. He doesn’t blame the other man for that; it can’t be fun to meet a failed version of yourself. 

“Oh, no, that’s not what we mean –” Beverly says, raising a gentle hand towards him. He thinks maybe someone’s finally going to touch him, but he’s too far away and she drops her hand. 

“Yeah,” Richie says, cutting her off. “Who wouldn’t like you, man? You’re great. Cute little sweater vests and glasses and all. It’s just like what he wrote in the note, about the me in 1990. Our Eddie is just like…”

Richie and Beverly make a face at each other. Beverly shrugs.

“He’s a bitch,” Richie decides. He doesn’t say it as an insult, though; he’s grinning widely. “Like. He just gets off on arguing, I don’t know, he’d definitely try to fight you –”

“That's how he shows affection, though –” Beverly says, and honestly Eddie has no idea what to make of this. 

“I’m pretty sure if they ever met it’d be because the walls between dimensions were breaking down.” They all turn to Mike, who shrugs. “You know...bad.”

“Way to kill the mood, Mikey,” Richie says, rolling his eyes. 

“I’m just saying!” 

“We already saw the other guys, though, right? And nothing happened.” 

Eddie frowns, and steps a little closer to the group. “It was only Richie. My Richie, I mean. I didn’t see myself.” Wait, would he actually know if – “Although I guess I don’t know what he looks like, so maybe I could’ve –” 

“Oh shit, yeah,” Richie says. He sits up a little straighter and pulls his telephone out of his pocket. “It’s so weird, you actually look basically nothing like him. Anyone have a picture?” He’s swiping his fingertips across the screen of the phone, doing who-knows-what. 

“I do,” Mike says, leaning down to show Richie his own phone. 

“Very stalkerish,” Richie says. “But convenient in this exact scenario.”

“Where is that picture even from?” Beverly says, leaning into their little huddle.

“His LinkedIn,” Mike says, nonsensically.  

“Explains why he looks fucking miserable,” Richie says. “He was thinking about financial risks or whatever the fuck.” 

“Uh,” Eddie says. Everyone stares up at him again.

“Here, Eddie,” Mike says, kindly. He holds the telephone out so Eddie can take it, and he does, awkwardly, unsure how to hold it. “That’s the Eddie we’re familiar with.” 

Eddie has to hold the phone sort of close and tilt it a little. It’s weird to look at a picture on the small little screen, like a tiny television. 

Well, this explains why the Losers struggled to recognize him. They really don’t look anything alike; the other Eddie has dark hair and eyes, with a strong brow, a square jaw, and a serious frown. He’s not wearing glasses, either. 

“Huh,” Eddie says. He’s looking for some small bit of familiarity, anything at all. They’re both white? But it’d be pretty weird if they weren’t? They both have brown eyes and kind of thin lips. Eddie runs a nervous hand through his hair; he’d never wear it plastered back like this man’s. 

“He doesn’t look like me,” is all he can say, finally. He offers Mike his phone back, and Mike smiles gently at him as he takes it. It’s odd to think – presumably none of his Losers have any photos of him, so the other Eddie doesn’t know what he looks like. What would he think if he did? 

“Do we all look different, Eddie?” Beverly says. When he looks up at her, she’s watching him closely, and he flushes, feeling very perceived. 

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “So, you know, it makes sense we don’t resemble each other. The Beverly I grew up with has brown hair, actually.” 

“Oh, wow,” Beverly laughs, and runs a hand through her pretty red curls. “Well, I’m pretty attached to my hair, so I’m glad I got this.” 

Ben’s smiling softly at her as she says it. Eddie watches him watch her hand as it dips into the strands of her hair. 

“Ben, you’ve got darker hair and a fuller beard,” he says, turning to all of them. “Mike, you’re a little shorter and your hair is graying. Bill…” he laughs a little, and everyone’s staring at him. “You have a ponytail. It’s really funny.” 

“Oh my God,” Richie says, and Eddie watches his head tilt back as he laughs. “Oh my God! Really?” He looks like he’s just been given a gift.

Eddie shouldn’t laugh when his Bill isn’t even there to defend himself, but it’s just that it is really funny, and he likes to see Richie laugh, too. 

“Yeah,” Eddie says, grinning. “He’s, uh, he’s a little taller, and he wears glasses, but the big thing is the ponytail, it was so unexpected –” 

“God I bet it looks horrible –”

“He ties it back with a bit of twine,” Eddie says, and he’s laughing way too hard, and it’s so mean, but, well – 

“I’m r-right here you know,” Bill says, sounding pained, and Richie starts laughing all over again.

“Sorry, Big Bill,” he says, hands clasped in front of him, eyes wide in faux-placation. “We’re ever so sorry. Say, have you ever considered growing your hair out?”

“If I say yes, you’ll never let me forget it,” Bill says, and Richie says, “Okay but you saying that is literally the same as saying yes, so…”

Ugh, ” Bill says, and Eddie grins as everyone laughs, Beverly with one hand tilted over her mouth, Ben shy and just grinning, Richie loudly and expressively, Mike trying not to out of kindness to Bill – it’s all so charming, and it reminds him of his own friends but it’s also so uniquely them.

“Okay, okay,” Richie says, still grinning. “Sorry, Bill, we’ll leave you alone. Anyway, Eds, what do I look like?”

Eddie is tossed a little off-kilter by ‘Eds’, the sweet nickname that Richie clearly uses for his own Eddie. He bites his lip. 

“You look pretty different, too, Richie,” he says. “His hair is a lighter brown and he styles it completely differently. He doesn’t wear his glasses anymore, he’s got contacts instead. Uh...he’s taller, and he’s got a mustache.” 

Richie stares at him for a moment, wide-eyed. Behind him, Beverly giggles.

“Sorry,” she says. “Really, though? A mustache?”  

“It’s fashionable,” Eddie defends, even though it isn’t particularly. “Well...you know how Richie is. He likes bold statements.” 

“Do I?” Richie says. He’s looking at Eddie with one eyebrow cocked. 

“Uhhh,” Eddie says. “Well. My Richie, I guess.” 

Richie smiles at him. “Can’t believe he’s taller than me – I’m a little offended. And I’ve never been able to manage contacts, so you know what? I’m jealous, actually.” 

“Oh, please don’t grow a mustache to compensate,” Beverly says, digging her elbow into Richie’s side from where she’s sat down beside him. 

“I probably couldn’t pull it off,” Richie says. “Guess I’m just not as cool as that other guy, huh?” 

Eddie’s blushing, and he’d pretend he doesn’t know why, but well...he does. Is his fondness for Richie really so obvious? 

“You’re pretty cool in your own way,” he says to Richie, and offers him up an earnest smile. Richie smiles back, and Eddie feels good that the tension that’s existed between them since this morning has seemingly passed. 

 

“So,” Bill says, eventually. “We haven’t...seen anything.” 

“It could be that there’s nothing to see,” Mike says. “Because of the specific ways the dimensions lined up, or whatever. We know it’s worked before, but we don’t know why –

“Kinda shitty, though,” Richie says. “We came all the way here, man. And we followed the note that the other Losers left.” 

“It can’t work every time,” Mike says, and his voice is quiet but forceful. Eddie watches them both go back and forth, feeling like he’s maybe missing something. 

“Yeah,” Ben says, cutting in the tension that apparently exists here. “No, we get that. We’ve just been here a while –”
“So what, you just wanna give up?” Richie snaps.

“I didn’t say that,” Ben says. “Richie, c’mon.”

“Don’t ‘c’mon’ me! It’s Eddie we’re talking about! And we gotta get this guy –” he sweeps an expressive hand towards Eddie – “back where he belongs. It’s only fair.” 

Eddie chews his lower lip. Well, this is awkward. He never wanted to get in the middle of any pre-existing tension in the group, but it seems that might be where he’s fallen regardless of his wishes. 

“Maybe this one is just not working out,” he says, trying for comfort. “But that doesn't mean it can’t work again. I mean, we’ve had...what, three successes, right? The hospital, my room at the inn, and the theater. One misstep doesn’t change that.”

Richie turns and stares at him; his gaze piercing. 

“You really think that?”

Eddie doesn’t know what to say. “Yeah?” he says, eventually. “What am I supposed to say? I can’t...I can’t give up hope.”

Richie’s still looking at him, and Eddie can’t read his expression in the dim light. 

“Alright,” Richie says, eventually. “Yeah, fair enough. We’ve all outgrown this place, anyway. My back hurts, I need a proper chair, dammit.” 

“You’re so old,” Beverly says, leaning against his shoulder. 

“We’re the same age!”

“I’m young at heart,” Beverly says, and Richie rolls his eyes so obviously that Eddie can see it from where he’s standing off to the distance. 

Eddie ignores the rest of the conversation – Yeah, yeah, well we can’t all be fucking gorgeous and retain our youthful glow – Aw, Rich, you think I glow? – to turn towards Mike, because he’s the only one still crouched in the dark corner of the clubhouse, looking over a worn, peeling collection of posters pinned up to the walls. 

“Find anything?” Eddie says, and Mike flinches back a little.

“Oh,” he says, and he doesn’t straighten to his full height – Eddie’s not sure that he could actually do that without hitting his head on a ceiling beam – but he turns towards Eddie and brings himself closer to Eddie’s eye-level. “I...haven’t seen anything, not once this whole time. I’m sorry.” 

“It’s okay,” Eddie says, trying to keep his voice clear and earnest. “I mean it, one failure doesn’t mean we should give up, right?”

“Oh, I agree,” Mike says, eagerly. Eddie can see Bill watching them both and presumably listening, but everyone else is occupied with each other. “I’m thinking that maybe this was just too much of a stretch? Like, even if the other set of Losers is leaving a message, how are we even gonna find it? The hospital and the Derry Inn or the Town House – their names are different but they fulfill the exact same function in both universes, right? So it’s a one-to-one comparison...and I think maybe this isn’t.” He finishes his speech with an awkward grin, like he’s just realized how much he said. 

“Th-that makes sense, Mikey,” Bill says, and Mike turns to face him. “It’s like…the physical location matters, but I think at this point we’ve established that it’s m-more than that, too. Like...the emotional significance has to be similar? That sounds kind of ridiculous, but…” 

“It doesn’t sound ridiculous,” Mike says. “It sounds like something that would happen in one of your books. And I think it makes sense.”  Okay, so this Mike is a William Denbrough fan, too, that’s cute. 

“So you two think we should give up, too,” Eddie says, because, well, someone’s got to keep this team on task – although that’s sort of starting to seem like an impossible goal. 

“It’s not giving up to go eat dinner,” Mike says, “is it?” 

And, well, Eddie supposes that he’s right. “I guess,” he says. “Sorry for making you all stick around so long.”

“You didn’t make us do anything we weren’t willing to do for a friend,” Mike says, very kindly, and then he and Bill are rallying the rest of the Losers into action, and they’re climbing up out of the clubhouse and back into the light. 

 

-*-

 

Eddie wishes he could appreciate this group’s earnest efforts to cheer him up – mostly by trying to pique his interest with vignettes about their own childhood misadventures and twenty-seven years apart, and then with overly enthusiastic suggestions for restaurants to go to for dinner. Jade of the Orient ranks somewhere around plan S or T for “places Eddie would be willing to go looking for interdimensional portals,” so he’s blindsided by the realization that even that place doesn’t exist here, at least not with that name. He doesn’t recognize any of the restaurant names anyone lists off, even if some of them do sound like stand-ins that are similar enough to make everything feel just a little surreal. 

That becomes his unspoken excuse for asking them to drop him off in front of the Inn. Bill promises to drop by later with carryout from some family restaurant; comfort food does sound pretty appealing right about now, so Eddie nods his thanks before turning to plod his way up to his borrowed room.

He slips his hand through a crack in the door to flick the light on before he sets foot inside, and then he does the same in the bathroom. Maybe it’s not so bad, not having the shower; no curtain means one less place for intruders to hide. 

Better safe than sorry, though; Eddie flips the hamper lid open on his way in and leaves it like that.

He remembers that he still doesn’t have a toothbrush, goddammit, and if they had cell phones he could text out a polite request for one, problem solved.

He’s still debating walking down to ask the front desk for a spare when he realizes that something is off in here; the note he left this morning is back where he left it. 

Only it isn’t, because he didn’t write nearly that much; the little paper is crammed full of cleanly-formed, evenly-spaced letters, and when he rips it off the mirror he finds the bottom signed ‘Eddie Kaspbrak.’ 

“How’s that for surreal,” he mutters to himself.

Eddie can feel his pulse in the tips of his fingers, thudding against the slip of paper. A laugh slips past his lips when he gets to the part about Richie. Fine. Irreverent. Worried. He’s probably scandalizing this poor guy, the way he writes – he’s so polite, it’s no wonder his friends don’t seem to know what to do with Eddie.

Truth be told, Eddie is more than a little jealous. But he’s proud, too. Good hands – fucking obviously. When he thinks of it like that, it’s not hard to understand this other Eddie’s defense of Mustache Richie. 

Maybe it’s just because he – because someone who could have been him, who probably smiled writing “I can handle a little blood,” because another Eddie Kaspbrak wrote it like it was as simple as not worrying about a dirty bathroom. Maybe there’s no real, concrete reason to, but Eddie finds a lot of comfort in that promise. 

‘We can fix this.’