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The World Was Built For Two

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It appears on his sixteenth birthday.

 

Patrick’s wrist starts itching sometime during the night and he wonders if the rash he got from Belch’s car seat last summer is back as he scratches at the inflamed skin over his arteries. His room is cold with the February chill that creeps in through the cracks in the window frames and he pulls his blanket up to his chin, his fingers wrapped around his wrist as his mind slips back into sleepy static.

 

Something wakes him again in the early hours of the morning, and it’s not the mutt next door or his father stomping in the hallway on his way to take his usual 5 AM leak. It’s pain, sudden and so intense that Patrick bolts up in his bed, his eyes watering and bleary with sleep.

 

He's felt pain before, a few times. A pesky sting that grew into a swollen throb when Henry busted his lip back in middle school, an ache in the back of his skull when one of Huggins' curve balls had him seeing stars during one of their late-night baseball games, but never anything like this, because Jesus fucking Christ, it feels like someone’s burning his wrist with a cigarette butt.

 

Every pore in his body is pushing out fat drops of cold sweat like he’s got the worst hangover of his life and he fumbles for the light switch under the junk on his bedside table, his pack of Lucky Strikes and a used aerosol can falling on the floor as he shoves his wrist under the light bulb.

 

What the fuck?

 

He has to be dreaming, because there’s a stain of black ink spreading over his skin, shifting into what looks like a date.




0̶̢͉͠3̵̡̧͖̖͇̠͕͔͔̞̟̮̓̅̄͌̃̔͋̚͜.̵̜̗̌͋     0̷̣̮͚̇̒̐̅̍͠3̶̢͍͔́̌̅͐̈́̓̇̊.̷̧̛̼̜̻͎͖̻͙̖̜̙͓͓͖͋̊̊̉͋̔͘͘0̷̡̨̤͍̥͑̍̾͗͑7̸̤̫̹͖̲͎̰̐̔̄.̶̢̹̠̏       03.07.1992 .




The cogs in his sleep-addled mind begin to work and something pushes through then, a memory of a dark classroom, the hum of the overhead projector in his ears as his 7th grade biology teacher shifts through transparencies and drones on about special bonds while Patrick sits in the back of the room and doodles in the margin of his text book.

 

The lesson had been about soulmarks.

 

Patrick’s stomach lurches so hard that it feels like one or more of his vital organs has slipped into a new location. The thing on his wrist is not just a date, it's someone's birthday.

 

“No fucking way…”

 

Not many people get a soul mark and those who do see them as a blessing or a curse. Patrick rests his arms against his knees and drags his nails through the mark, the skin around it throbbing like an open wound. He didn’t fucking ask for this and it sure as hell isn’t a blessing to be tied to one single person for the rest of his life. For all he knows, it could be some band geek or a total hatchet face.

 

He grabs his pack of cigarettes from the floor, his fingers shaking as he shoves one between his lips and does some quick math in his head. The date on his wrist is more than two years away, which means that whoever he’s stuck with is still some snotty-nosed little brat.

 

The phosphor green arms on his alarm clock are traveling somewhere between six and seven, but there’s no way Patrick is getting any sleep after his shocker of a birthday present. He kicks the blanket aside and goes to sit at his desk, something he hasn’t done since junior high. Most of his school books end up in the trash at the end of every semester, but he finds his old biology books in the bottom drawer, buried under a pile of pink detention slips.

 

He blows out a puff of smoke through his nostrils and flips through the pages until his eyes land on a headline about soul bonding, the margins still adorned by his doodles of dead insects. The book is aimed at seventh graders, but it covers the basics, how the bond is both mental and physical and yada yada yada... 

 

“... and fucking permanent.”

 

Patrick glares at his wrist like he's got the plague. No one else in his family is cursed with a soulmark, which means the universe or whatever higher power is out there is a giant fucking bitch. He knows the cliche of John and Judy, Linda and Susan, Bobby and Tommy, take your pick, it doesn’t matter, because they’re all high school sweethearts, meant to fucking be because of a stupid mark on their wrists.

 

His cigarette has burned down to its filter by the time Patrick finally tears his eyes off his wrist. He can hear his mother humming in the kitchen, can picture her in front of the stove, flipping over greasy strips of bacon while his father sits at the table and rustles his newspaper impatiently.

 

He shoves his legs into a pair of jeans and pulls a sweater his Aunt Edith made for him a few years ago over his sweat-stained undershirt. It hangs over his lanky frame like a small tent, all the flab he used to pack gone with the growth spurts he’s been having since ‘87. There’s no way he’s sharing the thing on his wrist with his friends, and he grabs a frayed bandana from his overflowing dresser, wrapping it around the mark as he heads out of his room.

 

His parents appear oblivious to his life-altering change and Patrick ignores their happy birthday wishes as he grabs a half-blackened strip of bacon from the plate his mother has set out for him.

 

"Aren't you going to join us, son?" his father asks, lowering the morning issue of Derry Herald to make sure Patrick sees the disapproving pinch between his eyebrows.

 

Patrick sinks his teeth into the crunchy slice of bacon and grabs his puffer vest from the rack by the front door.  "Nah, I got things to do."

 

“But Patrick, honey, I was going to make you pancakes,” his mother says with her usual hangdog expression.

 

And it's pathetic, the way his parents try to pretend their life is an episode of Happy Days or something when even the neighbors know it's closer to whatever show that fat fuck Archie Bunker was in.

 

The sky above the suburb is like a watercolor painting, cold and diluted. Patrick tugs the collar of his vest up to his ears and curses Bowers for throwing his hat into the Kenduskeag after he'd lost a game of rock toss on the Main Street bridge. He makes his way to Belch’s house down the street and stabs his initials into the frozen porch railing with his pen knife while he waits for the lazy bastard to drag his ass out of bed.

 

“Can I drive?” Patrick asks when Huggins finally stomps out of the house, spinning the keys to his Trans Am around his finger.

 

“Fuck no,” Belch snorts, holding the keys just out of reach as Patrick tries to grab them from his meaty hand.

 

And Belch might be older and forty pounds heavier than Patrick, but he squeals like a little girl when Patrick kicks his boot into his shin.

 

“You little shit!”

 

Patrick laughs and dodges the swing Huggins aims at his head. He darts to the car and shoves his long legs through the window to climb inside as Belch yells at him to keep his nastyass boots off the upholstery. They pick Vic up on their way to the Bowers farm, and Patrick has almost forgotten the damn mark on his wrist until Henry presents him with a box of M-80s, muttering a happy birthday, asshole under his breath.

 

Patrick shakes the box in his hands, his smile stretching from ear to ear as they all listen to the rolls of explosives rattle inside. And sure, Henry Bowers is all kinds of crazy, but the guy knows how to destroy shit. Their smiles drop when they hear the front door open and Butch Bowers stomps to the porch like a king coming out of his rathole of a castle.

 

"I better not catch you little assholes destroying any public property with those or there'll be hell to pay,” he says, looping his thumbs over the gun belt under his protruding gut as he eyes the box of fireworks in Patrick’s hands. “You hear me, Henry?"

 

Henry lowers his eyes to his feet, meek and quiet like he's receiving his first communion, all of his usual bluster crumbling at his father’s raised voice. "Yes, sir…"

 

They watch Butch drive out of the yard in his cruiser, and no one challenges Henry for the front seat as they pile into Belch’s car, but Patrick's smile is openly mocking as he sneers at Henry from the backseat. 

 

"Yes, sir, " Patrick snickers, and Vic joins his laughter, though his eyes are timid behind the veil of his blond hair.

 

Henry spins around in his seat and shakes his fist at Patrick. "Shut the fuck up, Hockstetter, or I'll bash your nose into your fucking brain," he growls through his yellowed teeth, but they both know it’s an empty threat.

 

They spend the day at the gravel pit, the air resonating with the blasts from their M-80s, and it’s a nice outlet for the anger Patrick feels over the stupid soulmark, churning in his gut like a vat of acid. He gets into a proper fight with Belch when his final firecracker takes out two hubcaps on the Trans Am, and Patrick relishes every scrape and bruise he manages to land on Huggins’ husky body.

 

He goes home with a black eye and ignores his mother's fussing over it as he kicks the door to his room shut and tears the bandana off his wrist. And maybe he imagined the whole thing, maybe there is no mark, because it can't be real. It isn't real.

 

He lowers his eyes to his wrist and the mark is still there, pink and swollen like a fresh tattoo.

 

"Fuck."

 

Patrick fishes his zippo from his pocket and flicks his thumb against the flint wheel, wonders if he could bury the ink under scar tissue, out of sight, out of mind. His brow prickles with sweat as he lets the flame lick over the blue web of his veins, the pain that flares through his nervous system seizing the air in his lungs. The zippo slips from his hand and he stomps his boot against the black stain in the carpet, the smell of burnt polyester mingling with the ingrained stench of nicotine in his room.

 

His birthday passes and the mark on his wrist stops aching after a few days. Patrick keeps it out of sight, but it’s never out of his mind, the bandana around his wrist a constant reminder of the fact that there’s someone in his future he won’t be able to ignore.

 

Unless, of course, that person ceases to exist. Because the mark might be permanent, but life isn’t, and plenty of children go missing in Derry.

 

He pulls the fire alarm between fourth and fifth period a couple of weeks after Easter and sneaks into the principal’s office while everyone is busy swarming out of the building like a bunch of lemmings. The lock on the filing cabinet comes undone with a couple of good jabs from his penknife and Patrick flips through every eighth grader’s file, pausing on any asshole with a March birthday.

 

He lets out a frustrated groan and kicks his boot against the cabinet, because there are at least seven students with the same birthday, way too many to tell which of the little brats will be Patrick’s old ball and chain in two years’ time. The only face in the bunch that makes his eyes light up with recognition is the four-eyed little trashmouth who looks at Patrick like he’s the big bad wolf whenever their eyes meet in the hallway. He runs his finger over the black and white photo on the file, over the coke bottle glasses and the column of a slender neck.

 

Time will tell if Patrick will have to snap it.

 

 


 

 

The next two years pass faster than Patrick anticipated. He doesn't date, but he refuses to be one of those little prudes who live in abstinence because of a stupid mark on their wrist, and he gets laid from time to time. No one in Derry comes within groping distance of him, and the people he fucks are all strangers he meets at gas stations and motel parking lots when Belch takes them cruising down the highway between Derry and Bangor on the weekends. And it’s fine, nothing mind-blowing, but at least he gets to choose where he sticks his dick. 

 

The loss of control over his own life has him in a constant stage of elevated rage. He takes it out on public property, spray painting rust-eaten freight cars in the train yard, and swinging a baseball bat through people’s mailboxes, letters and pieces of metal scattering on pristinely mown lawns as they cruise down West Broadway in Huggins’ Trans Am. And sometimes, when destruction of other people’s property isn’t enough, he and Bowers grab Patrick’s old BB gun and head to the Barrens. He’s not as good a shot as Henry, but it’s satisfying to watch the ducks in the river quack and swim around frantically as Henry clips one of them in the wing with the gun.

 

When the first week of March 1992 finally rolls around, Patrick skips most of his classes and spends what little time he has left in the junkyard, smoking and observing how a dead possum he finds next to an old fridge grows steadily more bloated with worms. When the week is over, its eyes have turned into sunken holes and slivers of white bone protrude through the matted fur.

 

The mark on his wrist aches all day and he barely makes it home at nightfall, every muscle in his body weak like they’re made of glass. He crawls into bed, but he doesn’t sleep, his mind a red haze as he stares at his soulmark, someone else’s pain coursing in his veins like a virus.

 

In the morning, there’s a new addition under the numbers, a looping , final and infinite.

 

Patrick pulls the blanket over his head, his moist breaths puffing against his cheeks. He wants to stay home, pretend the day he’s been dreading isn’t finally here, but there’s a weird pull under the mark, like someone’s pushed an invisible fish hook through his wrist and is slowly reeling him in.

 

He ends up cruising around with Belch and Vic, and they don't say it out loud, but they all know Henry’s absence means that Butch Bowers has pulled another crackdown on him. Patrick doesn’t care, because in a Bowers-free pecking order, the front seat of the Trans Am belongs to him.

 

Belch isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he and Vic both take note of Patrick's haggard appearance as he slouches against the open window, the March air chilly on his clammy cheeks.

 

“You look like a steaming pile of dog shit,” Belch chortles, watching Patrick from the corner of his eye. “You got a hangover or something?”

 

“Or something…” Patrick mutters, pushing his sunglasses higher on his nose. He can barely hear his own thoughts through the solo Lars Ulrich is drumming in the stereo, but he feels his pulse spike up when they drive down Center street, the invisible hook in his mark compelling him to... what, get out of the car? What the fuck?

 

“Wait," Patrick croaks, grabbing Belch's shoulder. "Pull-- pull over.”

 

Belch’s eyes widen with alarm. “You gonna hurl? Come on, man, not in the car!”

 

“Pull over, you dumb fuck!”

 

Belch steers the car to the curb and Patrick stumbles out in a mess of long limbs. He yanks his sunglasses off his face, his eyes darting around the street as his soulmark pulses under the bandana. There’s a housewife pushing a stroller out of Keene’s pharmacy, a couple of old farts pawing at apples at the fruit stand, the group of little shits from school making their way to the arcade--

 

Oh. Wait.

 

Patrick watches, frozen in place, as the self-proclaimed Losers Club comes closer, and he knows , right then and there that his ball and chain is Richie fucking Tozier.

 

The kid’s face is as pallid as Patrick’s and the bruises under his eyes speak of an equally sleepless night. They both grab their wrists as they stare at each other, and Patrick is vaguely aware of Belch and Vic calling his name from the car as he stumbles past the people on the sidewalk.

 

The rest of the losers spot him soon after Richie and they all freeze in place, their shoulders pulling up to their ears. Stuttering Bill and the homeschooled kid spread their arms out protectively, but Patrick only has eyes for Richie Tozier.

 

Richie backs away, almost stumbling on his own legs as he cradles his arm against his chest. And something happens then, a sensation Patrick hasn’t felt since he was a little kid and his father had peeled slimy blood suckers off his sunburnt skin at the lake. His chest feels tight, like he’s underwater and desperate for air, and something electric travels down his spine as he feels a sudden compelling urge to run away.

 

It’s fear, he thinks, almost fascinated by the way his heart seems to hammer to a beat that isn’t his own.

 

Richie’s fear.

 

Patrick can tell Richie is gonna bolt, which he does, and his loser friends spin around on their heels, calling after him as Richie runs down the street and disappears in the alley behind the drug store.

 

Patrick stares at the empty street corner, his chest straining with the lingering traces of Richie’s fear. He has no idea what he was expecting, but being bonded to a kid he’s spent years terrorizing is kind of a curveball.

 






 

Patrick tries to go back to ignoring the whole thing, but turns out it’s not that simple. If it was, soul bonds wouldn’t be such a hassle. The kid is in his head like a parasite, the constant echo of his feelings swimming in an out of focus like a bad reception on an old TV. Sometimes they're clear enough for Patrick to almost picture Richie pacing in his room, confused and afraid, but most of it is just fuzzy noise, the kind you get when the broadcast is over for the day.

 

Bowers resurfaces a few days later, the bruise around his right eye barely healed, and it doesn’t take him long to notice the way Patrick keeps scratching at his wrist every ten seconds as they down some beers behind the ruins of the Kitchener Ironworks.

 

“You got lice or something?” Henry snorts, but there’s a suspicious pinch between his eyebrows as his eyes linger on the bandana on Patrick’s wrist.

 

“Maybe it's crabs!” Belch snickers, reminding everyone how he got his nickname as the ruins around them echo with a burp that's almost like a roar.

 

“Yeah, I got them from plowing your mom,” Patrick huffs, his cheeks sinking into his face as he sucks on the mouth of his beer bottle.

 

Belch gives him the finger and wanders off to take a leak behind a wall of concrete.

 

"Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you, man?" Henry presses on. "You look like a fucking corpse."

 

"At least I don’t have a shiner in the shape of my old man’s fist..." Patrick mutters under his breath.

 

Henry cocks his head and tightens his grip on his bottle of Budweiser. “The fuck you just say, Hockstetter?”

 

Patrick ignores Henry’s question and reaches into the cooler for another beer, but it slips from his grip when something seems to clog his throat. He tries to swallow, but the muscles in his neck feel like rods of steel and he remembers the kid in his fifth grade math class who ate a peanut and died from one of those anaphylactic shock things.

 

"Are you crying ?" 

 

Patrick whips his head to glare at Vic who's staring at him over Henry's shoulder, his dark brows arched high on his forehead.

 

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Patrick snarls, but his voice comes out all choked and high-pitched through the lump in his throat.

 

"Holy shit you are!" Vic shrieks, pointing at Patrick like he's at a freakshow. "Hockstetter is crying!" he yells at Belch who's wandering back from the ruins, zipping up his jeans.

 

Patrick blinks, because there is something on his face, rolling down the side of his nose and clinging to his upper lip.

 

"What the fuck, Hockstetter?" Henry snorts, his expression shifting between disgust and amusement.

 

"I'm not fucking crying, okay?" Patrick growls, rubbing his knuckles against his eyes, white sparks exploding behind his lids.

 

Richie Tozier is crying.

 

Patrick tosses his empty bottle against a collapsed wall and watches it shatter in a shower of brown shards. He grips his wrist and channels two years’ worth of pent up anger into their bond, pitch black and suffocating. The tears cease almost immediately, as does Victor’s gloating when he sees Patrick reach into his boot, the smooth flick of his combat knife enough to kill his laughter.

 

He makes it two more weeks, but he knows he’s fighting a losing battle. His feelings are a constant jumble of something desperate and angry, and the hook on his wrist has grown into a claw, its talons sharp and insistent.

 

He rolls out of bed after another sleepless night and barely recognizes his own face in the bathroom mirror as he moves his toothbrush over his molars, his eyes hollow and bloodshot.

 

He has to evict the kid from his head, one way or another.

 

Patrick slips his knife into his boot and grabs a foil of condom and a single-use packet of lube from the drawer in his nightstand. He has no idea where Richie lives and he drives to the bus terminal for some detective work. The phone booths next to the entrance are all occupied, but a knock against the glass has the girl in booth number three slamming the receiver on the hook as she ends her call in a hurry.

 

Patrick slips inside and wrinkles his nose at the stench of stale piss as he opens the heavy directory. He knows Richie’s dad is the town dentist and he finds the contact information for Derry Dental on the yellow pages.

 

"Doctor Wentworth Tozier, taking care of your pearly whites since 1975."

 

There aren’t that many Toziers in the residential section, and only one with a dumbass name like Wentworth. Patrick rips the page out of the book and folds it in his pocket, his steps determined as he walks back to his car and sets course for the waspy side of Derry.

 

Richie’s home street is a suburban cliche, the large trees that line the road still bare after the winter. Patrick pulls his car in front of the Tozier house and combs his hair behind his ears as he strolls to the door.

 

The woman who opens it a moment later greets him with suspicious eyes. “Yes? Can I help you?” she asks. She looks elegant, like she’s stepped out of a shampoo commercial, and Patrick can smell her lemony perfume all the way to the bottom step.

 

He sticks his hands in his pockets and twists his mouth into a polite smile. “Yeah, uh, is Richie around?”

 

Mrs. Tozier's eyes flick to Patrick’s rustbucket of a car parked in front of her driveway and she looks at him like he’s a rat that’s come crawling into her picture perfect slice of the American dream. Fucking uppity bitch.

 

“Richie is out with Bill Denbrough. Are you one of his friends from school?”

 

“Oh yeah, we’re really good friends,” Patrick nods.

 

Mrs. Tozier stares at his toothy grin and takes a step back into the house, her grip on the door handle growing almost white-knuckled. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know where he is,” she says in a nervous rush, already pulling the door closed.

 

Patrick knows she’s lying, but he continues to smile at her through the gap in the door, broad and pleasant. “That’s okay, Mrs. Tozier, I’m sure I’ll find him, sooner or later.”

 

He can feel Mrs. Tozier’s eyes follow him through the living room window as he strolls back to his car, the smile on his lips dropping the moment he’s sitting behind the wheel.

 

His head aches from several sleepless nights and he has no desire to spend his day chasing after the little shit responsible for it. Lucky for Patrick, Derry's entertainment is limited to the arcade and a midday screening of some kids' movie about a slobbering dog.

 

It's Saturday and half of the town's teenage population is shoving their weekly allowance into overpriced video games, the plastic clack-clack-clack of buttons being smashed accompanied by a cacophony of electric bleeps and jingles.

 

Patrick finds Richie at the back of the crowded hall, hunched over an X-Men game with Stuttering Bill Denbrough. He feels a sense of gleeful spite as he takes in the sickly look on Richie's face, and he knows Richie has seen him when he abandons his game and dives to hide behind the cabinet.

 

Denbrough pulls himself to his full height, stepping in front of Richie like a little knight in shining armour, but Patrick shoves him aside and sends him falling on his ass. “W-w-what d-do you think you’re d-doing, Hockstetter?” he stutters, scrambling back to his feet as Patrick looms over Richie. “Leave him alone, you p-p-psycho!”

 

“Get l-l-l-lost, Denbrough. This doesn’t concern you.” Patrick fists his hand around Richie’s parka and yanks him out of his hiding place. “You’re coming with me.”

 

Richie seems to snap out of his frightened stupor and he grabs Patrick’s wrist, the magnified discs of his eyes narrowing behind his glasses. "No fucking way! Let go of me, you asshole!"

 

Patrick almost loses his hold on the slick nylon of Richie's parka and he wonders if it's his own rage that’s muddling Richie's emotions or if the kid has grown an actual spine in the last couple of years.

 

"You're crazy if you think I'm going anywhere with you--” Richie's argument dies on his lips when his fingers brush against the bandana on Patrick’s wrist and he jumps like he’s been hit with a jolt of electricity.

 

The small touch on Patrick's mark feels like a shot of morphine straight into his vein, the murky connection he shares with Richie suddenly sharp and in full technicolor.

 

Richie looks startled and he tries to yank his hand away, but Patrick pushes the puffy sleeve of his parka up his arm and smacks his palm against the looping ink on Richie's own wrist. “You’re coming with me,” he repeats, and this time, Richie doesn’t fight back.

 

The clack of buttons has ceased and every pair of eyes in the room is watching Richie like he's taking his final walk down death row.

 

Denbrough makes another attempt to stop them, but Patrick swats him away like a pesky fly.

 

“Richie! What the hell are you d-doing? You can’t go with him!”

 

Richie throws his friend a helpless look over his shoulder, but his face goes slack when Patrick digs the blunt edge of his nail into his wrist, and he follows him to the door like a docile pet.

 

Patrick leads him to his car and lets go of Richie's hand, watching him like a predator watches its prey in tall grass. Richie could bolt down the street like he did a few weeks ago, Patrick isn’t stopping him, but he kicks the heel of his sneaker against the frozen slush and spits out a litany of curses as he climbs into Patrick’s beaten up Chevy.

 

"I can't fucking believe it's you ," Richie whines, sliding down in his seat like someone’s let the air out of him.

 

"Trust me, kid, the feeling's mutual," Patrick mutters under his breath. He grabs his pack of smokes from the dashboard, the tremble in his fingers causing the first cigarette to snap in two, brown crumbs of tobacco packing under his nails. “Shit.” He’s itching to pull Richie’s fingers back to his wrist, but that’d be as good as rolling over and exposing his belly.

 

He manages to light his cigarette, but the lungful of smoke does nothing to calm the restless itch under his skin. Everything’s more heightened now that his fucking soulmate or whatever is right there next to him, scrawny and nervous and somehow the only thing Patrick will ever want.

 

Richie keeps glancing at Patrick, tapping his fingers against his knees as his feet echo the nervous rhythm against the floor of the car. "Did you, uh…" Richie hesitates, his adam’s apple jumping under his jaw as he swallows. "Did you get your mark when you turned sixteen? Is it like mine?” He waves his skinny wrist in front of Patrick’s eyes, the same loop of infinity and Patrick’s own birthday etched into his pale skin. “Have you known this whole time it was gonna be me?"

 

Patrick swipes Richie’s hand away, already annoyed by the kid's motor mouth. "No."

 

"I think I've been able to feel you like I'm psychic or something. Like you’re in my head, and most of the time it’s just this weird, muted static, but Mrs. Hobbs gave me detention last week, because I threw my book at the blackboard in this freaky fit of rage." Richie narrows his eyes and points an accusatory finger at Patrick. "That was your fault, wasn't it?"

 

"What the hell is this, twenty questions?" Patrick snaps, letting out a hysterical snort of laughter as he sucks on his cigarette. "Look, all I know is that I'm sick of this shit and it's clearly not going away until we, I don't know, consummate it or something."

 

Patrick feels Richie’s confusion through the bond and it’s obvious that he doesn't know the meaning of the word. Neither would Patrick if he hadn't flipped through one of the romance novels they sell in the minimart while he waited for Bowers and Vic to swipe them a pack of beer.

 

Richie drops the questions in favor of fiddling with the knobs and buttons on the radio, and Patrick lets him fill the car with tedious chatter from some asshole on Maine’s public radio.

 

He knows he needs to take Richie somewhere private, but the gas meter on his Chevy is too low for a trip out of town, and there’s no way he’ll waste his money on a room at the Townhouse or the Koala inn.

 

“Where are we going?” Richie asks when they turn left at the corner of Witcham and Neibolt.

 

“You’ll see.”

 

Patrick watches Richie from the corner of his eye, and he's no band geek, but his face is a weird mix of soft lines and awkward angles, because he’s sixteen years old . Jesus. The kid probably can’t even kiss, not that Patrick wants to put it to a test.

 

His mark continues to throb, urging him to reach out, but it’s Richie who caves first.

 

He lifts his hand from his lap, his slender fingers twitching against his palm. “Can you… Can you touch me again?" Richie asks, his eyes a little shy as he reaches out to tug on the sleeve of Patrick's sweater.

 

Patrick's mouth curls up and he stubs his half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray. “Getting a little desperate?” he sneers, but the ache in his chest eases the moment he wraps his fingers around the offered wrist. 

 

“You saying you aren’t?” Richie shoots back, the jut of his chin defensive as he digs his thumb against the mark on Patrick’s own wrist. “I can feel you, you asshole.”

 

Patrick’s nostrils flare at Richie’s touch and he slams his boot against the gas pedal, speeding down Neibolt Street until he's pulling the car in front of the dilapidated house at the end of it.

 

“Wait… W-why are we stopping here?” Richie digs his nails into Patrick’s arteries and the terror that bleeds through their bond seizes the air in Patrick’s lungs like he’s been hit in the solar plexus. “There’s no way I’m going in there!” Richie protests, his voice shrill like a girl’s.

 

Patrick wrenches his hand free from Richie’s death grip and tries not to gasp at the loss. “What the fuck, Tozier? It’s just a house.”

 

“It’s not just a fucking house, there are things in there,” Richie whines, like Patrick is about to take him to the house from fucking Psycho.

 

“What, you mean the junkies? Those guys are pathetic, their brains are so fried that even you could beat them in a fight.”

 

“Well, I don’t wanna spend my Saturday brawling with a bunch of crackheads!”

 

Patrick rolls his eyes and climbs out of the car, but Richie’s fear hangs over him like a bad smell as he heads towards the house. He’s halfway across the yard when he finally hears the car door open and close, frozen blades of grass crumbling under Richie’s sneakers as he rushes after Patrick.

 

"Want me to hold your hand?" Patrick drawls, and he doesn't expect Richie to take him up on the offer, but that's exactly what he does, shoving his hand into Patrick's.

 

"Shut up…" Richie grumbles, following Patrick up to the half-collapsed porch.

 

The air inside the house is saturated with a stink of piss and shit, a veil of dust motes floating in the beams of muted March sunlight that manage to pierce the boards in the windows.

 

Richie’s eyes are glued to the used needles and makeshift beds amid the broken furniture and Patrick feels his pulse spike up when he sees that one of the beds is occupied. The guy seems totally out of it, a pathetic shell of a man with a tube of rubber wrapped around his lax arm.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Richie whimpers as he follows Patrick to the staircase. “Why did you have to bring me here? We're gonna catch hepatitis or something…”

 

“What the hell do you want, kid, a five star hotel?" Patrick groans, his jaw clenched, because who knew a guy they call Trashmouth would have such high standards. "You know why we're here, let’s just get it over with.”

 

Richie looks up at him, eyes round like moon pies. And he must have known why they’re here, but his mouth pulls into a tight line and Patrick feels a surge of annoyance when he spots the wobble in his chin.

 

“Come on, it’s not like we have a choice here. I don't know about you, but I've barely slept since you had your stupid birthday." Patrick yanks Richie's arm up and points at the mark on his wrist. "You wanna go back to ignoring this shit? Live with insomnia and the fucking hook in your wrist for the rest of your life? Fucking fine."

 

He lets go of Richie’s hand to test his resolve and if the kid bolts, well, he's still got a plan B hidden away in his boot.

 

Richie's eyes dart between the open doorway and the mark on his wrist, and Patrick can feel his hesitation. Part of him wants Richie to run. Wants him to give Patrick a reason to reach into his boot, take the easy way out.

 

He's part of you now.

 

Patrick frowns and shakes his head at the thought as something in him makes him question his own plan.

 

The line of Richie's shoulders sags in defeat and he tears his eyes away from the door. “You’d better have a fucking rubber on you… Eddie says you can get AIDS if you do it bare,” he grumbles, shoving his hand back into Patrick's. “And this doesn't mean I'm your boyfriend or something."

 

“I'm crushed,” Patrick snorts, his dry tone hiding the strange relief he feels at Richie's compliance.

 

He leads them down a dark hallway, Richie's fear pulsing at the base of his skull like a migraine as he pulls him into one of the bedrooms.

 

It's a fucking dump and Richie pinches his nose as Patrick closes the door behind their backs, and yeah, maybe they should have done this in the backseat of his car or something, because the bed frame is in shambles and one look at the lumpy mattress is enough to repel any thought of doing this the old-fashioned way.

 

Patrick turns his eyes to what looks like a vanity under the thick layer of spider web draped over it. He grabs the chair in front of it, the legs scraping against the worn wood as he drags it into the small spot of sunlight filtering in through the lining of newspaper on the window panes.

 

Richie's backed himself into a corner, the sole of his sneaker tapping a nervous rhythm against the floor.

 

“Come on, Tozier, lose the pants,” Patrick orders, the pain in his wrist eating at his patience as he yanks his belt out of its loops.

 

Richie begins to fiddle with the button of his jeans, chewing his lip like he’s in Sunday school.

 

“What are you, the preacher’s daughter?” Patrick snaps, parting the fly of his own jeans as he takes a seat on the chair. “Come on, pull your pants down and get your scrawny ass over here.”

 

Richie’s glare is impressive, but he does as he’s told, and it's kind of amusing because his sneaker gets stuck in the hem of his left pant leg and he ends up hopping across the room like a gangly rabbit.

 

Patrick reaches out and grabs him by his hips before he has a chance to fall, and he ducks his head to hide the smile that threatens to break out at the corner of his mouth.

 

“You are prepared, right?” Richie asks, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I'm not doing this back-- bareback or whatever it's called."

 

Patrick rolls his eyes at Richie’s fumbling and reaches into the pocket of his jeans. He’s no virgin like Richie, but he’s never fucked a guy, not even when he’s been drunk enough to be attracted to anything on two legs. The mechanics of it can’t be that complex and he waves the condom and the packet of lube in front of Richie’s nose.

 

“Come on, sit on my lap,” Patrick says, brushing his fingers against Richie’s wrist.

 

The small touch is enough to make Richie obey, the chair creaking under their combined weight as he straddles Patrick's thighs.

 

"Can you see without these?" Patrick taps his finger against the thick rim of Richie's glasses, suddenly curious to see if his eyes are as huge and buggy without them.

 

Richie swats Patrick's hand away and pushes his glasses higher on the long slope of his nose. "You think I’d be walking around looking like Arnold fucking Poindexter if I could?"

 

Patrick laughs under his breath and lets Richie keep his glasses. "I was thinking more like Buddy Holly, but whatever.”

 

“Buddy Holly?” Richie’s eyes light up and Patrick can tell he’s pleased even if he doesn’t know the exact reason behind it.

 

He drops his hand between Richie's thighs and frowns when he feels his cheeks burn with a sudden rush of embarrassment. When he looks up, Richie’s face is as red as a fire truck and he fails to stifle the warbled moan that slips from his lips as Patrick feels him up over the wash-worn cotton of his underwear.

 

“You trying to make me feel like a blushing virgin?” Patrick snorts, enjoying the way Richie squirms in his lap 

 

There’s movement downstairs and Patrick suspects the junkie they saw is up and desperate for another fix. The noise draws Richie’s eyes to the door, and the familiar note of panic is back in his voice as he whispers, “Did you hear something?”

 

“All I heard was you moaning like a whore,” Patrick grins, giving Richie's cock another squeeze as he rubs his thumb over his wrist to distract him.

 

Richie’s head lolls back on his shoulders and Patrick watches the way his lashes flutter against his cheeks, long and dark, almost like he’s wearing mascara.

 

Patrick pulls his cock out of his jeans and fixes his eyes on Richie's plush mouth as he strokes himself to hardness, and he has to admit that it could be worse, because the kid looks like he'd give better head than the lot lizards that prowl the truck stops between Derry and Bangor.

 

He tears the packet of lube open with his teeth and yanks Richie’s underwear aside, stretching the cotton over his left asscheek.

 

“Fu-uuck! That's cold!” Richie cries out, shifting away from Patrick’s lubed up fingers.

 

“This whole room is cold,” Patrick points out. “It’s like thirty degrees in here.” He gives Richie's hole another prod, but the kid is as tight as a nun's cunt. “Come on, you gotta relax,” Patrick sighs.

 

He tries to force his finger inside, ignoring Richie’s pained whimpers until the sting of his own touch bleeds through their bond.

 

“Jesus,” Patrick yanks his hand back, his chest heaving as he glares at the identical marks on their wrists. He tries again and feels his eyes water as Richie starts to sniffle in his lap, squirming away from Patrick’s hand.

 

He's part of you now.

 

Patrick rakes his fingers through his hair and blows out a frustrated breath through the seam of his lips. “Okay... Gimme your hand.”

 

Richie’s eyes are suspicious, but he wipes his nose on the sleeve of his parka and lets Patrick lace their fingers together. “What, we gonna hold hands? How romantic,” he snorts.

 

Patrick has no idea what he’s doing, but he seals his lips against Richie’s wrist and flicks his tongue against his soul mark.

 

“O-oh shit!” Richie’s entire arm goes slack and Patrick has to wind his arm around his waist to keep him from falling off his lap. And fuck it feels good, the sharp curl of Richie’s pleasure resonating in Patrick’s crotch as he leeches it through their bond.

 

He keeps mouthing at Richie’s wrist and touches him with a gentleness he’s never shown to any Jennys and Suzies and whatever-the-fuck their names were, and it pays off, because after a while, he’s got two lubed up fingers in Richie’s ass.

 

He shoves his own hand in front of Richie’s face and Richie goes a little cross-eyed with surprise as Patrick presses his soul mark against his mouth.

 

“Suck it.”

 

Richie folds his fingers around Patrick’s arm and seals his lips around his wrist, the wet heat of his tongue better than any blowjob or hurried fuck in a gas station bathroom. Patrick spreads his fingers to feel the way Richie’s hole yields around them, eager to pop the rest of his cherry.

 

“You think you're ready now?”

 

“I- I guess…” Richie nods, glancing down at Patrick's crotch. His eyes are wide, like Patrick's dick is gonna bite him if he gets too close.

 

Fucking virgins.

 

Patrick hands the condom to Richie with a challenge in his eyes. "Put it on me."

 

Richie opens the foil, his mouth a stubborn line as he sets the rubber over Patrick's cock and, against all odds, manages to roll it down without making a fool of himself.

 

Patrick's cock pulses under the latex as he empties the remaining lube in the packet over it. “Okay, hold yourself open and remember to fucking relax.”

 

Richie rests his cheek against Patrick’s shoulder and bends his skinny arms behind his back to pull his cheeks apart, opening like a blossom as Patrick finally slides into him.

 

He’s so light and easy to maneuver, like one of those inflatable dolls they torched last 4th of July in Belch's backyard.

 

Richie lets out a soft wail and the pulse of pleasure in their bond has Patrick yanking him closer by his hair, his breath ghosting over Richie's lips. The possessive thing that begins to rear in his chest digs its claws deep, and he fucks Richie hard and fast, the desire to ruin him for anyone else almost overwhelming. 

 

“You’re mine now,” Patrick pants, flicking his tongue over the tight seam of Richie’s mouth.

 

“No…” Richie protests, but Patrick sees the way he leaks in his underwear, the fabric almost see-through where it clings to the pink head of his cock.

 

And it's too much, the way Richie's pleasure melds with the want in Patrick's gut, the connection between them like an exposed nerve. He knows he's about to come and he slips out of Richie’s hole, his eyes burning with a quiet mania as he begins to roll the condom off.

 

“W-what are you doing?” Richie tries to look over his shoulder, but Patrick grabs him by his chin and snaps his head back.

 

“Nothing,” Patrick murmurs, balling the condom in his fist as he mouths at Richie's soul mark, grinning at the glazed look that settles into his magnified eyes. “Yeah, that’s it, just relax.”

 

He lets the condom fall on the floor with a wet slap and slips back inside. And it's good, the warm clutch of Richie's hole and the pleasure that pulses through their connection as Patrick shoots his load into his ass.

 

The beast in his chest is sated, and the kid does look ruined, suckling on Patrick's wrist like it’s a fucking pacifier as he comes in his underwear.

 

They catch their breaths, and the talons Patrick has felt in his soul mark for the last three weeks have finally eased their grip. It's like something's lodged into place and put his world on correct axis again.

 

Richie sways in Patrick's lap, red-cheeked and out of breath, and Patrick feels him, almost like Richie is an extension of his own body, a warm knot somewhere between his lungs and spine.

 

He wraps his hand around the slender column of Richie's neck, and sure, he could still break it like a twig. Just a little squeeze, twist and snap. The junkies that haunt the place would take the blame and Patrick’s life would go back to normal.

 

Richie blinks at Patrick, his eyes like black buttons in the shadows of the room. They grow wide, and for a fleeting moment, it almost seems like he knows exactly what Patrick is thinking. His breath seizes in his throat as Patrick rubs his thumb against the swell of his adam’s apple, the muscles under his palm jumping at the pressure.

 

"Patrick, please, l-let me go..." Richie whimpers, his eyes wet and desperate.

 

Patrick likes that sound, the fear he feels through their bond heady and raw. He eases his grip on Richie's neck and moves his hand up to his sweaty curls, his touch almost gentle.

 

Maybe he’ll keep the kid around, for a little while.