It’s been over two months since IT died. Two whole months, plus some change. That’s enough time for a lot of things to occur. Enough time for Eddie to get out of the hospital and go back to New York. Beverly doesn’t talk much about what’s going on with her but Mike is pretty sure there’s a restraining order involved. Ben got a dog. The dog is very cute, Mike enjoys seeing pictures of it in the groupchat. Stan went back to work a few weeks ago, although Patty confessed to Mike over text that she’s not sure he’s ready for it. Richie has a show on Friday. Mike’s not sure how that’s going to go. Bill’s back in L.A. Mike’s not sure for how long, though. He hasn’t stooped to reading tabloids, exactly, but he’s not above perusing the occasional sketchy article when his phone presents it to him. He’s aware that Denbrough-Phillips union is not in the cleanest of states. Uncomfortably aware. Turns out it’s hard to transition into regular friendship after having google alerts turned on for somebody.
And Mike is still in Derry.
He’s going to leave, obviously. Any day now. As soon as he packs everything up and donates what he doesn’t want, and gets his car looked over one more time. It’s gotta be able to make it a long way down the coast, at least if he wants to go to Florida. He is not sure he does. The Grand Canyon might be nice. Or Niagara Falls. Lots of options.
It’s not like he’s ever seen California, either. Again: options.
“I love you,” Bill says, when they talk on the phone. It’s nice. It’s been a long time since anyone said they loved him.
Mike has not been sleeping well. He’s dreaming a lot, and the dreams are vivid in his memory because he’s half-awake for most of them, caught in the horrid half-light of early morning sleep. How did he sleep better when he knew that IT was alive and a threat? How does that make any sort of sense?
Some of the dreams are typical. Well – absurd, and terrible, but in the familiar Derry brand of absurd and terrible. Bill’s scream when Eddie was impaled. Bill’s arms around Mike’s shoulders, pushing him out of harm’s way. The blood on Bill’s mouth when Mike drugged him because Mike makes terrible decisions under pressure. It’s exhausting, frankly, to dream about Bill this much.
It’s just a stupid crush.
A stupid crush that he’s been nursing since he was fourteen. But that’s fine. He got over it. Bill never even knew, probably. Definitely. Why would he? He’s probably straight. He’s definitely married. But then this marriage is – no. Mike has to stop thinking like that.
It’s just this one stupid dream he’s been having in particular. It’s different from the others because it’s not a memory. Well, it is, but – it isn’t?
“Do you think,” Bill says, and there’s something strange in his voice, something wistful. “Mikey, d-do you think there’s a version of this – of us – where we don’t separate?” He looks at Mike, then, directly. Eye-to-eye. “Where...where I don’t leave?”
Even if he hadn’t said it, Mike would’ve known what he meant. But he’s glad that Bill did say it, regardless.
“I don’t know,” he says. He doesn’t. He’s trying to picture it, but life doesn’t come with second chances, as much as he wishes it would.
“I know it sounds like science fiction,” Bill says, seemingly out of nowhere, “But I mean – it’s like, every decision we make could’ve been something else, so maybe there’s s-somewhere – somewhere else – where those other decisions played out different.”
Mike listens in fascination. Bill keeps starting and stopping like he can’t figure out how to express what he’s trying to say. Mike knows that feeling, too, sometimes.
“You know?” Bill says.
“No,” Mike says, “I don’t know.” Bill’s face falls. No, no, wrong decision Mike, you wanted to see the other one. He doesn’t know how it works on a quantum level, but – he reaches out and catches Bill’s shoulder in one hand. It’s odd – he’s taller than Bill now, and he’s still growing. So when Bill looks at him, his chin tilts up a little. Just a tiny bit. Still. It makes Mike feel strange. He doesn’t know a word for it, other than strange.
Or maybe he does know a word for it; a word or two or three. But he’s not going to think them. Maybe there’s another world where he does and everything spirals out from there.
“Do you really think there’s…” he pauses. Tries to think of the vocabulary he has for this, learned from Richie’s movies, from Ben’s books. “Parallel dimensions?”
“I think there, there could be,” Bill says. “I like thinking about it.”
Well. Of course he does. Mike doesn’t want to say that, either. He offers up, “Maybe…” but it’s hard to imagine.
“It’s stupid. Um. Maybe there’s a world where, you know,” he wills Bill to understand without him having to say it. Bill is still looking at him. He can’t see his eyes clearly in the dim light. He shivers a little. He’s glad it’s dark out, not that anyone’s watching them. In the end, he says it.
“Where my parents don’t die. Uh...I hope…” he laughs. Too-loud. “Shit. I hope they’d be proud of me, and all that.”
It’s not so dark that he can’t see the smile curve up Bill’s face. They’re both growing up (growing apart? going away?) but Bill looks so young when he smiles.
“God, Mikey,” Bill says, all-earnest. “Of course they’d be. What’s not to be proud of?”
Mike squirms under his gaze. He’d wanted to go out for the football team and maybe impress his grandpa, but in the end he wasn’t fast enough or clever enough or strong enough. His grandpa hadn’t been mad at all. Not even disappointed. But Mike had felt that way anyway, at himself.
“I don’t know,” Mike says, rather than admit to any of that. He hasn’t been talking about stuff like that with Bill recently. In his defense, Bill hasn’t been talking about anything significant with him, either. “It’s nice to think there’s a world where they’re still alive, though. That’s all I mean.”
Bill nods. And maybe that’s that. Mike is now keenly and absurdly over-aware of every action he makes; every breath, every tilt of the head, every blink. Please, I don’t want this to be the end of us, he thinks. I don’t want him to leave without...without me telling him...
“Do you know what date you’re leaving on yet?” Mike says. He drops the hand that has already lingered far too long on Bill’s shoulder.
Bill shakes his head. “About two months, now,” he says. “Mike...I don’t wanna go.”
“Maybe it’ll be good. For...your parents, I mean. They just want to forget. That’s not so bad.”
“But I don’t want to! They – maybe for them th-th-that’s the best option but I –”
Bill bites off the rest of whatever he was saying and just stands there. He looks lost, and he looks…fragile. Like his thin frame can’t support the weight on his shoulders.
“I know,” Mike says, although he isn’t sure what he knows, which really goes against the spirit of the sentence. “It’s okay.” It’s not, not really.
“I d-don’t wanna forget you,” Bill says. “N...not you. Mikey.”
And that’s what does it; that’s what pushes Mike over the edge and into the unknown. He leans forward and the cool night air and the reassuring darkness hold him close and he presses his lips against Bill’s in a chaste kiss.
He doesn’t expect it when Bill’s hand reaches up and curves along the side of Mike’s face but – but it’s gorgeous, it’s the best thing he’s ever felt. Bill moves against him, kissing him back, and Mike could cry right now, he really could.
“I don’t want you to forget, either,” Mike says, and he hates how hard it is to tell the truth. “Bill, I’m gonna miss you so goddamn much.”
A tear slips down Bill’s cheek and Mike wants – absurdly – to bottle it up, to crystallize it into something he can save forever. Obviously he can’t do anything so fantastical. He stands there with his hands clutching uselessly at Bill’s shoulders and he can’t make him feel better, he can’t stop him leaving, but at least – at least they have this, right? So he brushes the tear away with his thumb and he leans forward and he kisses Bill again and he’s trying to be gentle about it like Bill is gentle with him.
Except that it didn’t go like that. Mike didn’t kiss Bill. He always wanted to, but he never did. That’s simply the state of things, and he knows that. He remembers that moment, everything about it, right up till the kiss that didn’t happen. Before that moment, the scene was accurate. But the kiss, Bill’s single tear – that’s not real.
So why the Hell does he keep dreaming of it? This is maybe the third or fourth time, and each night it’s slightly different, like outtakes of the same scene in the movie, but it always ends in a kiss that Mike knows did not actually happen. What does that mean? Is he really still that hung-up over his friend? It feels like it does mean something, but – what does he know? He’s being absurd. Fucking paranoid bastard. It’s over; it’s all over. No more magic, evil or otherwise, resides in Derry. Just Mike. Mike, alone again.
“Hey,” Mike says, into the phone propped up against his cheek by his raised shoulder. Light is streaming happily in through the window above his desk, but he still feels cold. “Do you have dreams? I mean, about –”
“About what happened?” Bill says. “Yeah, Mikey, of course I do, I think that’s, that’s pretty regular.”
“Right,” Mike says. He does not know how to ask what he wants to ask. “Nothing…weird?”
“Define weird,” Bill says. “Can’t-explain-it-to-my-wife weird? Yeah, sure. The-clown-is-secretly-still-alive-and-fucking-with-us weird? I don’t think so.” There’s an odd emphasis on the word clown, that Mike is aware means that Bill almost stumbled over it. He is suddenly angry at how much he knows about this man. What the fuck does Bill know about him?
(A lot, actually. Well. More than most.)
Fuck, that’s sad.
“Mike?” Bill says. Mike has floated away again. Shit. He’s gotta relearn how to pay attention. How to be a person.
“Right, yeah,” Mike says. “I just wish I’d stop having them, I guess.”
“They bother Audra?” See? Mike can be personable and nice and a good friend.
Bill laughs, though. “Uh – I mean, no, ‘cause Audra and I don’t actually share a bed –”
“You don’t? Shit, Bill, sorry –”
“It’s a-alright,” Bill says, mildly. “The nice little news articles about our failing marriage aren’t entirely wrong.”
Yeah, Bill knows too much about him.
“Still,” Mike says. “Sorry.”
“’S fine, really,” Bill says. “Not every split has to be…you know. Bad.”
“Right,” Mike says. “Sure.”
He doesn’t know what to say next, but apparently Bill does. Mike lets him lead the way. When they hang up, he feels very uncomfortable, for reasons he cannot explain.
In the night, they meet again, sixteen years old and scared. This time it’s Mike who cries, who says, I don’t want you to leave, please don’t leave, and it’s Bill’s hands that wipe his tears away.
Another goddamn dream, Mike writes in the notebook that used to be for research but now is for Mike’s Feelings. Stupid. I wish they would just stop.
He starts taking sleeping pills. It works for about a week.
Bill leans forward and one hand raises up, reaching towards Mike. He doesn’t make contact, though. Mike, however, does. He grips Bill’s thigh under one palm. He does not think about how intimate this is. There’s blood in Bill’s mouth. He’s bitten his lip or tongue or the inside of his mouth. Mike’s other hand goes to his lip and wipes the blood away. More drips down once he pulls his hand back. Bill’s eyes are wide and slightly unfocused; he’s both looking and not-looking at Mike.
“Sorry,” Mike says. “Bill, I – sorry.”
Bill’s mouth opens slightly, but no words come out, only more blood.
“Shit,” Mike says. And then he wakes up.
“What’s the fucking point of that one?” Mike says, out-loud to the room at large. “It’s barely any fucking different.” What does it change to press a thumb to Bill’s lip? It scares him that the dreams can change focus and time, be about something that happened decades ago and something that happened a handful of months ago. What’s he gonna see next?
“I think I’m getting kicked out of the house next week,” Bill says, in a very conversational tone.
“Good opener,” Mike says. “Also, what?”
“Well,” Bill says. “You know. Audra. And me.”
“Yes,” Mike says.
Apparently, Bill thinks this is sufficient.
“Audra and you…” Mike prompts.
“Oh,” Bill says. “I think she’s trying to get with one of the producers on the movie. So she, she needs the house.”
“Why does she need the whole house? You guys are rich? Can’t she just get a hotel room or go to his place or something?”
“I think he might still be married, too,” Bill says. “I don’t know, Mikey, maybe she wants to fuck him in our kitchen, do I look like m-mind reader to you?”
“I,” Mike says. “Okay. You’re…alright with this?”
“I’ve never really liked the house,” Bill says. “So anyway. What’s new with you?”
Bill wants to know if he has a destination yet, for his road trip. He does not. Or, well, he does, but where it is depends on where a certain man goes after being kicked to the curb. Mike finds himself idly hoping that Bill doesn’t decide to leave California, because he really has always wanted to see the west coast. Go west first, and then triumphantly return for a Florida trip? Mike idly googles some flight details while his car is in the shop, and decides, as per usual, on nothing.
“I wish you wouldn’t go,” Mike says, after he and Bill have the same conversation about multiverses and ripple effects and choices that they always have.
“I w-wish I wouldn’t go, too,” Bill says. His voice is so soft. When Mike wakes up he’ll think about that, about how quiet Bill’s voice was, and how young he was, how young they both were, even though back then he’d thought they were both so grown up and mature.
“I’m scared, Mike,” Bill says. “I’m s-scared I’ll forget you, like, like everyone else is forgetting us,” – ‘us,’ he says, because they’re the last two out.
“I don’t want you to forget me,” Mike says. “Please. Don’t forget me.”
There’s the tear, the single tear, down Bill’s cheek. Why didn’t that happen in the way it really went? Why can’t Mike remember?
“I don’t want to,” Bill says. “I r-really don’t w-want to. You know, right?”
“I know,” Mike says. Bill reaches out, and presses his thumb into Mike’s lip.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t know,” Bill says in a voice so quiet it’s basically a whisper. Then he leans in close, and tilts his head up, and he kisses Mike. For one long lingering moment, Mike’s eyes stay wide open; he can see glimpses of the curve of Bill’s cheeks and nose and his eyelashes and then Mike lets his eyes slip closed, lets himself be kissed. Bill’s hand is on his shoulder, holding him in place, binding them together.
Mike wakes up.
He looks up into the darkness. Why wasn’t it like that? “I wish it had been like that,” he says aloud to no one. “I wish…”
He does not know what he wishes or even wants. IT is dead, and what more has he ever wanted? But no, fuck that, he wants things, he does, it’s all just sort of – nebulous. And pointless, like I want a better childhood, I want a better adulthood, I want a better world.
Mike goes back to sleep.
“It’s kinda funny, when you think about it,” Bill says, his voice lazy with sleep. It’s early morning for him. It is not early morning for Mike, but he also just woke up. He has not been sleeping well. “Me and Audra have been slow-motion falling apart for a year and a half now, and then –” Bill makes a weird noise that’s probably meant to be an explosion – “Bam! The clown, and y-you all, and –” Bill falls silent.
Bill is kind of weird, Mike thinks vaguely. Does that make me weird, too, since – nope! Hop off of that train of thought, Michael!
“And what?” Mike prompts. Perhaps he’ll even get a full sentence about it.
“And now it’s over, I guess,” Bill says.
“I, I know.”
“So what now?”
“Don’t know,” Bill says. “Can’t keep renting a hotel room forever.”
“She kicked you out again?”
“The producer’s pretty hot, I guess.” There’s a pensive beat of silence. “He’s six foot one.”
Mike laughs. Warmth bubbles up in his chest. What a start to this morning. “Don’t tell me you’re insecure about your height.”
Now Bill is laughing too, a gentle sleep-coated laugh. “Shut up! It’s just he’s a lot taller than me!”
“I’m a lot taller than you!”
“You’re not sl-sleeping with my wife!”
“Christ, I’d hope not,” Mike says, and that odd warm feeling stays settled in his chest, even after they let each other go and start their separate days. Mike’s sorting out his book collection, and he hums a little to himself, as he does it.
Another dream in his home: Bill on the floor; his eyes hazy and unfocused, his bleeding mouth not cooperating with him as he looks up at Mike and tries to speak. Underneath Mike’s thumb he feels the rough seam of Bill’s jeans. He’s sober, but his head is spinning as much as Bill’s must be. It’s just, he has to show him this, because if he doesn’t, Bill won’t believe him, and he’ll leave, and then everyone will leave, and he’ll be alone again, and the fucking clown will go on murdering children. The only thing going through Mike’s mind is a running unstoppable string of NO NO NO but the blood on Bill’s lips is so red and so hard to look at.
“Mmikey,” Bill says, in this quiet gasping way, dragging out the first ‘m,’ and Mike says, “Bill,” and they’re on the floor together and Mike’s hand is still on Bill’s thigh.
“Did you – did you see it?” Mike says, and Bill reaches up and grips the collar of his shirt. The fabric tugs at the back of Mike’s neck as Bill pulls him forward.
“I sssaw you,” Bill says, and he keeps tugging at Mike until Mike almost falls down on top of him, except he doesn’t, because Bill braces his hands against Mike’s cheeks and he kisses him. Mike tastes the copper tang of Bill’s blood on his tongue and it should be disgusting, it should be horrible, but it isn’t, and Mike wonders if there’s enough residue of the root left on Bill’s lips to dose him, too.
When he falls it’s because Bill tips over and they both go down; collapsed on the bare floor of Mike’s living-space, and panic begins to bubble up and out of Mike’s throat.
“Bill,” he says, “Bill!” His hands are on either side of Bill’s face to try and get a look at him, because sure it’s a micro-dose but what if he got it wrong, Bill really is dripping sweat and red-faced.
“I’m,” Bill says, “Oh—” but his mouth gets stuck on it, like Mike remembers happening when they were kids, so it’s not very convincing, even when Bill gives up and manages, “Alright.” The blood has dripped and smeared down his chin; it’s probably on Mike’s, too. He tries to stand, to get something to clean them both off, to get some untainted water for Bill, but he can’t make his limbs work and the panic refuses to subside.
“I’m sorry,” he says, desperately, “I had to – I had to make you see –”
Waking up from that one is a relief. He checks his phone; it’s half past three in the morning. He feels…not good. What he feels is insane but he’s trying…not to be that. Not to call himself that. He’s trying.
Half past three is only half past midnight for Bill. Maybe – but he’s not sure he wants to try.
He does anyway. A brief text reveals Bill is still awake; in fact, Bill cheerfully sends over a whole selfie of himself at a hotel desk, bent over his laptop. Mike stares at it for a long moment, his phone screen very bright in the darkness of the room.
Can’t sleep, Mikey? Bill says.
No. Are you working right now?
Time waits for no man, and neither does my agent!
You can really write right now? Mike thinks. Shit, after everything? Maybe it’s helping him. Maybe Mike should try writing more in his stupid little clown notebook. He wonders what’s more likely – that he’s just a permanent fuck-up that’ll never get over it, or that Bill’s peeling apart at the seams, too, and Mike just hasn’t spotted it yet? He mulls this over for a while, and when he checks his phone again, he sees that Bill’s texted I hope you fell back asleep! Sweet dreams Mikey!
Two ‘Mikey’s in one conversation. Mike shoves the phone back under his pillow, and closes his eyes.
IT’s heart crumples into dust – strange, alien dust that floats up instead of down; and in whites of everyone’s eyes Mike can see the twisting circling lights loop ‘round and ‘round until they vanish into nothing. That means IT’s dead. Right? Right?
Oh God, it’s dead? It’s fucking dead? Beside him, Eddie makes a small pained noise and Richie says something to him that Mike can’t process because he’s not sure he’s processing anything. He feels Ben’s hand on his shoulder and maybe he says something too? He turns and Bill is there and his lips are parted but he’s not speaking; no useless noise; there’s nothing to say; and Mike thinks there are tears in Bill’s eyes like he feels in his own. Bill reaches up to wrap his hand around the back of Mike’s neck and they lean into each other and Bill’s thumb are on Mike’s cheekbones and they’re so close they must be breathing in each other’s breath and then Bill kisses him or maybe he kisses Bill; it happens simultaneously like it’s the only possible outcome.
The world drops out around him and Mike knows – he knows the clown is dead because how could he feel this safe if it wasn’t? He pulls back and few inches and laughs, and it sounds so choked up, but it’s okay because he’s happy, and Bill is grinning up at him.
When he wakes up from that one he says aloud, Who the fuck wants to make out in the sewers? After killing an evil alien clown thing at that. But it was a pretty chaste kiss and he woke with a smile on his lips, so. So.
“Are you God?” He says to the darkness. “Or is this my subconscious doing all this? Because I’ve been into guys before and I’ve never –” Never dreamt of them like this. Never odd half-memories. That’s pretty damn unexpected and absurd and all that.
He lies back and thinks about it. Can there be some sort of magic in the world that isn’t evil? Can there be some sort of connection between him and Bill that is begging and tempting him to be fulfilled? Is there a non-awkward way to ask Bill, Do you ever dream of me?
Probably there isn’t. Ah, well. Time to break out the clown notebook again.
Maybe we’re soulmates? He writes, and then feels like a sentimental idiot for the next several hours.
Back home! Bill texts him accompanied by an unflattering selfie on him hunched over a desk that apparently belongs in the house that he and Audra share rather than in a hotel. To be quite honest, Mike’s not sure he could tell the difference, without context. It’s not that Bill-and-Audra’s home is empty or lacking expression, it’s just that every single space that Bill specifically speaks of or sends pictures of is depressingly generic. There are photographs in the hallways that Mike sees when they Facetime; and he knows Audra has the kitchen set up in a way that she likes and that Bill tolerates. But it’s – it’s, well – it’s just that he wonders, sometimes. He wonders if Bill was happy there.
Sort of pointless to think about now, maybe. But he still does. He can’t help it.
He dreams he’s standing outside of Eddie’s hospital room. That’s a real place; in fact, it’s a very real place that Mike had frequented plenty.
“Only one person allowed in,” Beverly says. “I think – I mean –” she cuts herself off, frowning.
“Rich,” Bill says. “Y...you should go.”
“I can’t,” Richie says, and Bill frowns, and insists. “Yes, you can,” he says. He’s so much smaller than Richie but in that moment it’s like his presence is overwhelming; not one among the Losers would dare disagree, and so Richie doesn’t.
Richie’s shoulders are hunched up under the thin fabric of his yellow shirt. He was wearing a jacket when they entered Neibolt but by the time they exited that jacket was soaked through with Eddie’s blood and probably the hospital staff have burned it by now. Richie hasn’t stood up straight since they got out. Mike’s not sure he’s yet to see Richie anything other than hunched over; hiding; scared. It isn’t right. He keeps thinking that, even in the weird dream-memory; this isn’t right, what should Richie be so afraid of?
He knows the answer. He does.
In this dream, he does not kiss Bill. He doesn’t kiss anyone because Derry is the sort of place where that could be punished and that’s that. That’s all! Game over!
As Richie disappears behind the door to Eddie’s room, though, Mike’s hand brushes ever-so-slightly over the top of Bill’s hand where it’s gripping the paperwork the doctor gave them. Just the barest of touches, the merest of glances, and yet he wakes to a dark room, wide-eyed and remembering the blaze of lightning that pierced his mind at the touch of it.
I should text Richie, Mike thinks when he wakes up. It’s kind of nice that the great match-making God that lives in the sky cares about platonic relationships, too.
Hey man, what’s up?
Richie texts back, oh you know, getting back in the saddle!!
Whatever emoji Richie put after this statement is too new to show up on Mike’s phone with its outdated software. He stares at the message for a long moment before deciding to pass the baton. He leaves Richie on read and ignores the quadruple text from his coworker Carole, scrolling to Bill’s name.
“You talked to Richie lately?” He asks Bill. His phone is tucked into the curve of his shoulder because he needs both hands to make his quesadillas. He’s almost out of shredded cheese. Is it worth another grocery trip, though? Since he is definitely and certainly going to leave Derry, any day now?
“No,” Bill says. “Well, kind of, we texted yesterday. He seems kind of manic?”
“So you noticed,” Mike says. Trusty ol’ Big Bill.
“I notice things.”
“I never said you didn’t?”
“Yeah,” Bill says, and leaves it at that. Mike is starting to become accustomed to odd way that Bill speaks; the leaps in logic that he expects you to take in a conversation, especially over the phone when they’re often both distracted. In retrospect it’s amazing they communicated at all that night in the library; Mike riding the emotional high of everyone’s return and Bill bombarded with a half-forgotten life story cramming its way back into his head.
“I don’t really know what to do about it,” Mike says. “Like, Richie, I mean – he’s –uh.”
“Right,” Bill says, and Mike wonders if this is what it would feel like to telepathically communicate with someone. God, that would make this so much easier, if he could just beam what he wants to say directly into Bill’s head. You could also try actually saying it, with your mouth, the part of his mind that likes to be snarky says. Mike shakes it off. He flips his quesadilla.
“I don’t think he should’ve gone back to work so soon,” Mike says. “I think, you know, we could all use some time off.” One side of his quesadilla is getting too brown. He flips it onto the waiting plate. Oh, he needs to do the dishes, too.
“Though I guess you went right back to writing,” he says, regaining his train of thought.
“What e-else am I gonna do?” Bill says. “I mean it’s my job but it’s also my only hobby. So.”
“That’s kind of sad?”
There’s some vague noises on the line as Bill moves something around. “It’s whatever. Audra and I used to watch movies, I guess. But I don’t like watching them by myself.”
Mike tries to imagine it. Bill and Audra, maybe a few years younger, Audra looking like she did in The Room Under the Stair, her hair cropped to chin-length and dyed dark brown. Maybe Bill has his arm around her. Maybe they’re distracting each other from the movie. Maybe they’re drunk. Maybe they’re eating dinner on the couch. God. Fuck. He’s got it so bad.
“I don’t really watch movies,” Mike says. “Or TV. So I guess I can’t judge.” All of his hobbies for the past five years or so have been clown-related in nature.
“Do you think we should talk to Richie about Eddie?” Bill says, apparently having wrapped back around to that section of the conversation.
“I don’t know that that’s really our place,” Mike says. He spoons what’s left of his store-brand salsa onto his quesadilla. Lunch!
“Right,” Bill says. “Yeah, I agree. Eddie’s texts are…too, though.”
“What?” Bill echoes back.
“I think you left some words out of that sentence, man. What are Eddie’s texts?”
“Oh,” Bill says. “Uh…I don’t know?”
“You’re a hard person to talk to sometimes, Bill.”
“So I’ve been told,” Bill says, and there’s a note of something that might even be anger in his voice. Mike frowns down at his sad little meal and the unwashed dishes in his sink and really and intensely wishes that he was in L.A. right now; sharing a couch with Bill and watching a movie.
It could be the worst fucking movie in the world and he wouldn’t care. As long as they watched it together, he probably wouldn’t even be bored. Ugh!
They don’t actually come to any conclusion about their friends, though Bill agrees to text Richie, for all the good it’ll do. There’s a lingering terseness in the conversation that intensifies when Mike tentatively asks about Audra, which – Mike finds sort of reassuring, actually? And lo it turns out that Bill is not fully disconnected from his interpersonal relationships! The reveal makes the way he says Love you Mikey, good-night, feel like it might actually mean something.
Bill reads him a passage from his new work-in-progress aloud over the phone. When he’s reading his own writing, his speech is more confident and smoother than Mike has basically ever heard it and he doesn’t know what to do with that. Bill finishes the passage and says, Well? What do you think? And Mike panics a little bit.
“You’re just saying that,” Bill says, reproachfully, and Mike presses a sweaty hand to his forehead in the dim lighting of his home.
“Read it again?” he prompts, and Bill says, “Alrrrright, fine.” He stumbles over the ‘r’ in alright; pulls it out long. Reading the passage again, though, he doesn’t stammer, and it leaves Mike time to think – because it is good; solid prose; descriptive and engaging and Mike is going to be thinking of it, thinking of those fictional ghosts instead if his own real ones, for some time. Maybe Bill’s writing can help the both of them.
He dreams that night of something that is not a memory at all, but an old hope. Mike is at a book signing for a young author by the name of William Denbrough. Mike has read not only his two novels but also all of his short stories. Mike does not know what to say when he reaches Bill at the front of the line.
“Who should I –” Bill looks up at him. His lips part, and he stares. “I,” he says. “Have we met?”
“Mike Hanlon,” Mike says. His palms feel very clammy. He hopes he’s not visibly sweating. “I’m from Derry, Maine…”
“Where, where I grew up,” Bill says, wide-eyed. The bookstore owner running this gig starts making impatient noises and Bill startles. “Sorry,” he says, though it’s not clear who he’s saying it to. “Uh,” he scribbles a note on the open page of the book. “Thanks for reading, Mike.”
Mike loiters through the rest of the event because he wants to get a better look at Bill. Not in – not in a creepy way, dammit, he just has to know, he’s gotta make sure that Bill’s alright.
When he finally heads to leave he’s still sweaty and anxious and he’s half-down the library steps when a voice says behind him, “Wait!” and when he turns, it’s Bill.
Bill looks flustered, too, he’s not carrying his bags or anything so he must’ve just sprung up and followed him. His suit jacket flaps open and Mike has never seen Bill dressed this sharply before.
“Mike,” Bill says. “You’re – Mike –” and then he takes several steps forward and he grips Mike’s face in his hands and he kisses him.
Mike almost trips down the stairs but he grabs Bill’s shoulders and steadies himself.
“Oh my God,” Bill says, “How could I f-forget?”
Mike feels the pinprick of tears behind his eyes. “Everyone forgot, Bill. Everyone left and everyone forgot.”
“But not you?”
“I never left,” Mike says, and leans down and presses his forehead against Bill’s.
Mike wakes up and stares up into the familiar darkness. Fuck, that’s romantic. It’s also extremely Not Real – it’s not a memory, it’s not something he half-forgot and twisted in his mind, it’s just –
It’s a fantasy he used to have, when he was younger, that he’d go back out into the world and he’d find the Losers and they’d love him again, it’d be like they never forgot.
Fuck! he thinks again, because that – it didn’t happen like that but he found them again and they love them and Bill says he loves him every day and Mike just let him fucking go, he let him go the other side of the damn country to a house he’s barely even welcome in, and Mike has been agonizing over where to go next for weeks.
He squints at his too-bright phone screen and this time when he googles FLIGHTS BANGOR LA he actually clicks on the links, sitting up in bed with his heart pounding suddenly in – fear? excitement? A mix of both and more, probably.
“Have a nice flight, Mr. Hanlon,” the woman at the desk says when she stows his bag away on her magical rotor of luggage, and Mike says, “Yeah, thanks, have a good night!” He probably sounds a little bit manic but that’s just sort of what happens when you impulse-buy a plane ticket and throw some shit in duffel and call your friend who might also be the love of your life on the way to the airport. Hey, Billy, I’m coming to see you, he’d said, and Bill had said, What? and Mike had said I can’t explain, I’m driving, I’ll call you when I’m in L.A., and hung up over Bill’s baffled protestations.
When Mike pulls up, Bill is sitting outside his absurdly fancy house; his knees folded up and his brown hair looking almost red in the waning sunlight. It does not look like Bill belongs there. Perhaps he doesn’t, or perhaps no one looks like they belong on the stoop of a house like that.
“Hi,” Mike says. “Uh – I was gonna –” he does not know what to say. “Do you wanna get dinner?” It’s pretty late for that, though. “Go back to my hotel room so we can talk more?” He manages, and as Bill stands up, he laughs.
“Sure,” Bill says, his voice as light and gentle as it was when he was a child. “Yeah, Mikey. Hotel.”
“What are we doing here?” Mike says, and he tries to keep his voice casual and noncommittal. He’s just seen Bill slide the swipe-card into the reader on the hotel door and the light switched abruptly to green and he’s thinking about how they don’t actually have their own space; about how they have to borrow it, so they can finally talk proper.
“Dunno,” Bill says. “I – figuring things out? T-taking some space for ourselves?”
“Right, taking space, figuring shit out,” Mike says. “That’s – I want to do that.”
“Okay,” Bill says. “Me too.”
“You were going to leave L.A.,” Mike says. It’s something of a non-sequitur but he’s just kind of letting his mouth take him where it likes. “Weren’t you?”
“Well,” Bill says. “Sssure.”
“What were you waiting for?”
“I,” Bill looks up at Mike, then. His eyes are dark and hard to read. “I don’t know?”
“I’m trying to fix things,” Mike says, desperately. “I’m – I have to fix things –”
“I’ve been having dreams,” Mike says because that’s the very start of the answer to that question. God, but how can he –?
“Dreams,” Bill says, and God this feels like one of them, fuck, is he – maybe he’s finally snapped, the jagged mass of his brain bending ‘till it breaks. Bill’s looking up at him from a distance just like how he was stood at Mike’s table as the root started to affect his mind; but Mike wants him to be closer, like when they were both young things or even closer like when they were under Derry, when IT was dead, because IT’s dead and Mike is free and he can do whatever he wants now and he doesn’t need dreams to tell him that, fuck you very much –
Mike takes a step forward. Then another. If this is a dream he’ll wake up soon but it can’t be a dream because it’s not a memory, it’s not a bastardization of something that’s happened before, it’s not even a fantasy – it’s a new story that Mike is creating right now and it has nothing to do with something stupid fucking clown or some well-worn histories of Derry and everything to do with what Mike wants.
“What dreams?” Bill says, gently, kindly, like he knows what’s about to happen. Maybe he did have the dreams, too. But Bill doesn’t move as Mike approaches him. He doesn’t reach up like he did in relief and joy. He doesn’t step back. He’s not bleeding. He’s not crying. There’s a few days’ worth of stubble along his jaw; Mike has never seen him like this, never seen him look so happy and healthy and beautiful.
“Dreams where I get a second chance,” Mike says. “Third – forth – chance –” he laughs. “Oh God, I can’t say it, let me just –”
He reaches forward and raises Bill’s chin and the little pin-pricks of hair on his fingers do not feel very dream-like at all. Mike touches Bill’s lip with his thumb; there’s still no blood. Bill’s lips part slightly as he makes to speak.
“Mikey,” he says, and that’s all, but it’s all Mike needs to hear.
It’s not really like the dreams because it’s not perfect or even particularly soft and Mike’s mouth is dry and they knock teeth a little bit because Bill’s mouth is still open. But then Bill laughs into Mike’s mouth and his hands raise to the sides of Mike’s face and his fingers are brushing at the overgrown ends of Mike’s hair and he kisses him back and Oh my God.
It’s not a magic moment and it’s probably not actually fated and the dreams were probably just regular dreams but it’s – it’s what Mike wanted. See, I can do that, I can want things, he thinks, dizzily. He presses his forehead against Bill’s and he closes his eyes and they breathe in each other’s air.
“Hi, Mikey,” Bill says. Mike keeps his eyes pressed tightly shut because he is going to remember how this feels, the physical weight of it.
“I was wondering when you would find me. Wondering if, if you were looking –”
“Of course I was looking for you,” Mike says and he has to pull back a little to laugh; has to raise one hand to rub as his suddenly-stinging eyes. “Are you fucking kidding me? I –” He cuts himself off. He breathes deep. He starts again.
“Do you remember? A month or two before you left Derry? We were talking…”
“We were sixteen,” Bill says. His eyes are heavy with memories.
“Yeah,” Mike says. “Well. I think I wanted to kiss you then.”
“Oh,” Bill says. “Fuck, Mikey, Mikey, now I wish you had --” Bill’s eyes go wide, alight – “Maybe it would’ve changed things, maybe I w-would’ve stayed –”
And yeah, that’s a thought:
Mike pulls back and Bill gives a little gasping noise as their lips part.
“Mikey?” he says, and maybe Mike should be nervous or feel bad for kissing him out of the blue like that but it wasn’t out of the blue, and he doesn’t.
“I just,” Mike says, “I’ll miss you, you know?”
“I don’t want, I don’t want to leave,” Bill says, and he sounds different as he says it, younger or older than his sixteen years.
“You don’t have a choice,” Mike says. “It’s not – I don’t blame you, your parents –”
“I’ve always wanted to run away from home,” Bill says abruptly, and then laughs, his head leaning back with it, Mike watching his pretty smile.
Bill grips Mike by the shoulder. “And, y-you know, it’s Derry – maybe no one would even notice.”
“Your parents might,” Mike tries to protest.
Bill shrugs. “Maybe.” Suddenly he wraps his arms around Mike, around his shoulders, and pulls him in close. Mike rests his head against Bill’s collarbone and allows himself a moment of rest. “Or I could leave but come back as soon as I’m legal…I’m almost, almost seventeen, it w-wouldn’t be that long to wait.”
“A year is enough time to forget,” Mike says into Bill’s skinny chest, because it was enough for Beverly, for all of them.
“Yeah,” Bill says. “I guess you’re right. I’ll just ssslash my dad’s tires instead.” When he laughs, Mike can feel the vibrations of it.
In the present, Mike says, “What did you say, that day? I mean, I remember – I remember part of it? But it’s like…” It’s like he’s fucking crazy and mixing up dreams and reality, but he doesn’t really want to say that –
But Bill looks thoughtful, too. “I know what you mean,” he says. “It’s – not hazy, but I –” He frowns. “I thought maybe it was because it happened in, in Derry. But if you also –”
“It’s probably nothing,” Mike says. “Just…that it’s nebulous. So many things could’ve gone differently.”
“I wish they had,” Bill says. He reaches out and takes one of Mike’s hands in his, his fingertips pressing over Mike’s palm. “I would’ve waited there with you, Mike, I w-wouldn’t have minded.”
“Oh, enough,” Mike says, and he shifts his hand to interlace their fingers. “I’ve officially had enough of your self-sacrificing bullshit, okay?”
“It’s not –” Bill looks up and meets Mike’s eyes. “Oh,” he says. “You’re teasing me.”
“Yep,” Mike says. “Missed doing that.”
“Missed you,” Bill says, and Mike laughs like his eyes aren’t still stinging.
“I did,” Bill says, and he cups his free hand around Mike’s cheek again. “Fuck, Mikey…”
“I know,” Mike says, because it’s overwhelming to think about, isn’t it? How different it could’ve been, how happy they might’ve been, without the loneliness that haunted them both, in Derry and out of it.
Bill kisses him very gently on the lips. Barely a peck, really. Mike closes his eyes to savor it.
“I’m sorry,” Bill says, He smiles, one side of his mouth quirking higher than the other. “Just once. Just l-let me say it, just the once.”
Mike laughs again. “Apology not accepted. Fuck. I can’t think about what could’ve happened, I –” Jesus there’s so many ways it all could’ve gone – enough to haunt a man, enough to make him dream of it.
“Can’t fix all those old timelines,” Mike says. “And you know what? I’m sorry too, I’m sorry you had to leave when you didn’t want to, and – I’m sorry that I called you back.”
“You had to,” Bill starts, but Mike touches at his lip and he quiets.
“Shut up,” he says. “Now you know how I feel. But, I – I’m tired of thinking about all of that. Well. I’m not. I think about it all the fucking time, I dream about it, but I want to think about something else.”
“The future,” Bill says. “You want to move forward, forget all this. That’s, that’s f-fair.” He drops Mike’s hand and Mike stares at him. Bill’s eyes are unreadable and dark.
“You’re an idiot,” Mike says. “I don’t – oh my God! I don’t mean you.”
“I’m your past,” Bill says. “It’s okay to want s-something more.”
“I,” Mike says. He is astounded. He is – he’s flabbergasted. “I fucking flew to L.A.! To see you! Are you stupid?”
Bill’s face goes visibly flushed. He looks up at Mike. “According to my wife, yeah,” he says.
“I forgot you’re still married,” Mike says. He covers his face with his hands for a moment. “Oh, fuck.”
“This is what I’m saying!” Bill says, his hands rising to justify himself. “You should – go to, to Florida, or wherever, and –”
“I do still want to go to Florida,” Mike acknowledges. “I want…a sunny beach. I wanna see, like, an alligator.”
“Then you should be in Florida right now, wearing a, a w-weird little visor and a t-shirt that says I Heart Miami! Not in L.A.!”
“Hard to think about Florida when I was so busy thinking about you,” Mike says, and Bill just kind of stares at him. “I think – I think you’re my best friend? And I want you to come to Florida with me.” He frowns and pauses. “If…if you want to?”
“Y-you want me to?”
“What part of this conversation isn’t working for you?” Mike says. He’d estimate that he’s about one-half genuinely exasperated and one-half giddy. About 100 percent hopelessly fond, too. “Because you seemed to understand the kissing bits well enough.”
“That’s different,” Bill says, and well, Mike supposes that he’s right. “But you really…fuck, Mikey, if you wanted to leave right n-now and you wanted me to come with, I would.”
“Might be a good idea to pack a bag or two, first.”
“Do I have to?”
“Did you bring a toothbrush?”
Bill straight-up glowers. “No.”
“Then yeah, you have to.” Mike’s grinning as he says it – the giddiness spilling over and out in to the world.
“You drive a hard bargain,” Bill says, and then he’s moving towards Mike, grabbing at his shoulders, pulling him down and kissing him again. It’s sloppy and Mike can basically feel his brain leaking out his ears. He opens his mouth and tastes Bill’s tongue and his thoughts are reduced to static. Fucking Christ it was never like this in his dreams, either; not the gross wet human mess of it, both of them buzzing out of their skin with nervous energy. Not picture perfect, maybe, but still pretty damn good.
They part for air and Mike presses his forehead to Bill’s. “Here’s what were gonna do,” he says. “I’m gonna drive you back to your wife’s house and you are gonna pack your shit up. And then we’re gonna come back here and talk about it, properly. And then, tomorrow, if we both want to, we can fly across the country on a whim.”
“Oh, I actually like that plan,” Bill says. “Good plan, Mikey, you’re so smart.”
“Thank you.” He leans in a kisses Bill again and they get kind of distracted for a bit but then finally Mike’s poor beleaguered brain remembers The Plan and he drags himself away from Bill, groaning. Bill laughs softly, and they stand several feet apart, just looking at each other.
“Lets,” Mike says, grabbing his keys off the desk, “Now? Yeah.” Suddenly he really wants to get to the part of the night where it’s just the two of them again.
“I hope Audra didn’t invite that producer over when she saw I was gone,” Bill muses, as they walk to Mike’s shitty rental car, and Mike thinks How the fuck did I get here? How is this my life?
“I wish you wouldn’t put that image in my head,” Mike says. They’ve approached the car, and when Mike opens the side door, Bill looks amused.
“How gentlemanly,” he says, and Mike feels his face heat. He sighs as he slides into the driver’s seat.
“Sorry,” Mike says. “Look, I barely know how to be friends with people, let alone how to…to court them?”
“Court!” Bill exclaims, like that’s the most delightful thing anyone has ever said. “And, well, me neither, so, I guess we’ll have to figure it out as we go.”
“You do know you’re literally married?”
“Still not sure how that happened. You know I, I never actually proposed?”
Mike glances over at him as he turns the ignition. Bill looks…not calm, exactly, but steady. He looks as if he’s maybe feeling the same weird wild mix of emotions that Mike is.
“Sounds like a good story.”
“And not a short one,” Bill says. “I guess the flight to Florida is real long, though.”
Mike smiles. He can’t help it. The giddiness is still there. Before he back out of the spot, he reaches over and grabs Bill’s hand. He squeezes it tight and then drops it.
“Yeah?” Bill says, voice soft, responding to something that Mike didn’t even to say with words. “Me too, Mikey.”
There’s so many things Mike could do right now – a hundred, a thousand, a trillion different choices that he could make and that could change everything.
He’s not worried about it, though. He thinks maybe he won’t ever see this moment in his dreams, and that’s alright, because he’s living it.
“A kiss for the road?” He says, and Bill laughs, bright and happy.
“’Course,” he says, and they lean over the central column and their lips join again. How many kisses is that, in one night? Mike hasn’t been keeping count, and he’s not about to start. It’s the exact right amount. It’s stupid and messy and impulsive. It’s just what Mike wanted, and this time – Mike chose it. It feels good, like the sun on your face after a long rain.
Mike grips the steering wheel. God or the universe or whatever, if you’re out there, if you’re listening – thanks for the dreams. I guess I finally got the message. And as he thinks it, he pulls out of the hotel lot and into his new life, with all of its absurdities and all of its possibilities.