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Fear has a Bitter Taste

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“Richie don’t move,” Bill hissed in warning, his stutter not apparent which would have gained Richie’s attention if not for Bill and the other losers treating a sleeping Eddie like they would a frightened animal. 

They’d all been on edge, every kid in town was. Even a few parent’s had been concerned which was unusual because it didn’t seem like parents in this town ever truly cared about their children's wellbeing, well except Eddie’s mom but that was a whole different story.

“As if he’s going to move,” Stan murmured, not looking up from his book. Eddie lay pillowed against Richie’s chest as they sat in the hammock. The closeness between them was a recent development, they’d always had a gravitational pull. Their arms nearly touching, shoulders bumping, and more hugs than any of the others losers gave each other, but this extent had been pushed when the children of Derry started going missing.

Richie didn’t mind the fervent touching at all, if anything the only problem he had with it was its cause. He’d rather Eddie dive into his arms for other reasons than fear, but he’d do anything to help Eddie, and holding him? Well Richie didn’t have to question that.

A keyed up Kaspbrak had always been his responsibility, like a wounded him had always been Eddie’s. 

They were all worried, but out of everyone in the group the two who normally fell into the pit of anxiousness were Eddie and Stan. 

Stan for the most part had been logical, limiting his time out, staying close to home unless it was only the seven of them and they were going to the clubhouse, while cautiously avoiding the sewers. Bill and Richie had also picked up on his lack of appetite and did what they could to help with that, but otherwise he stuck to indifference to keep his composure.

Eddie on the other hand wasn’t sleeping, if it was because he couldn’t or he refused to, they weren’t sure, but the rings under his eyes were prominent. Enough so Eddie had to rush out of the house before his mother saw them. He was jumping at the slightest of things and more often than not refused to even leave the room without someone with him. 

He didn’t like to seem vulnerable, and they understood that, and they understood his need for company when going out to pharmacy and even to the bathroom in the middle of a movie.

Lately you didn’t see a child alone or without a pet by their side. No one wanted to be caught alone with what was apparently a kidnapping clown running about and dragging helpless souls into the sewers leaving nothing but empty shoes, or in the case of little Georgie Denbrough, a corpse minus an arm.

The losers had all been torn by the development, an agreement unbeknownst to Bill settled that they’d do what they could to cheer up Bill and keep him from plunging himself into the greywater in search of his brothers killer.

Beverly seemed to be the best at keeping him contained, an unsurprising notion.

“Mike do you need someone to ride home with you?” Ben spoke up after a long silence filled only by Richie twirling his fingers in Eddie’s hair, it’d grown out just a little, the barber's son had gone missing and they’d closed up in search, possibly mourning meaning no one could get their hair cut.

Richie was only grateful Mrs. K hadn’t tried cutting it herself. She still made him style it, but it was looser than normal, fitting of his feisty personality, and soft in place of his sharpening features.

“Yeah, would you?” Mike returned, earning a nod from both Ben, Beverly, and Bill.

“We-we s-s-should get goin-oing,” Bill stumbled out, his stutter having increased over the past few weeks, the four wished the three goodnight and headed out. It wasn’t even close to sunset, but the day’s had been seemingly short with their self imposed restrictions. 

Stan, Richie, and Eddie on the other hand would give it another fifteen minutes before they headed home, they were pretty sure this is the most Eddie’s actually slept in days. And Richie wouldn’t be making the mistake of trying to climb through Eddie’s window again.

Eddie had nearly scared him in a freefall thinking it was the clown breaking in, and then whisper yelled at him for an hour about being an idiot and leaving his house alone in the middle of the night, then breaking out into tears admitting he wouldn’t know what to do if Richie had been taken before making him swear not to visit again until they were sure it was safe.

Richie admittedly cried a little too at his crushes concern for his safety and begrudgingly agreed to not sneak up into his room in the middle of the night, even if he was adamant his presence had been helping Eddie sleep. Eds didn’t disagree with that fact, but had decidedly ignored the comment in favor of pulling him into his bed, murmuring that he’d sneak out of the window in the morning to knock on the door and then they could go out for the day.

“When are you going to ask him out?” Stan asked, shutting his book and looking at his glasses-clad friend. Richie's reaction would have been more prominent if it wasn’t for the sleeping teen on his chest.

It wasn’t the question itself that took him off guard, more so the timing. Richie was well aware Stan knew of his feelings for Eddie, hell he was almost sure all the losers knew except little oblivious Eddie himself.

“He doesn’t like me like that, I’m not going to mess up are friendship because I was dumb enough to catch feelings,” it came out as nothing more than an exasperated depreciation, his chin moving to rest on the smaller boy’s head.

“If you’re dumb for falling in love then Eddie’s right there with you,” Stan retorted, opening back up his book and delving into the knowledge of birds in far off places that he could only hope to see someday. 

Richie didn’t truly believe it, but his head panged longingly with the memory of his poor sweet Eddie crying over him. Maybe Eddie loved him just a little, even if he only loved him as a friend, Richie couldn’t imagine someone crying over him if they didn’t love him at least a little.

Stan made the first move to start to leave then, Richie taking a deep breath of solace to bask in Eddie’s presence before waking him. The act in itself was painful, offensive like sacrilege.

The small whine that tore from the smaller boy’s throat as his eyes opened with slight difficulty had Richie’s heart skipping, something he hoped the smaller boy hadn’t noticed. 

“‘Chee?” the sleep deprived hypochondriac yawned, trying to bury his face into the crook of his throat, the bridge of his nose rubbing against Richie’s tingling skin.

“We have to start heading home spaghetti,” Richie jokingly admonished, his voice sweet and soothing, nearly sending Eddie back to sleep. Considering Eddie only nodded and slowly started to get to his feet rather than argue over Richie’s endearment was more telling than the little sleep lines marking his features from where Richie’s shirt had been pressed against his skin. 

Stan sent Eddie a soft smile as he began heading up the ladder, Eddie always returning it as he began to follow suit, Richie very close behind.

The plan was Stan and Richie would drop Eddie off first since his house was the furthest from their own, then Stan since he was only a block away from Richie’s, and then Richie would speed home as quickly as he could, which worked well since he was the most agile rider of them all. 

Bill was the fastest, Mike could get uphill before any of them, and the rest of the losers simply had fun with it, well besides Stan who was too scared of getting his bike scuffed to do anything too crazy.

Limiting his normal circles and patterns Richie rode close to Eddie with Stan on the other side of them, as much as they tried to make things normal and okay, recently they’d simply stopped trying to fill the void with their idle chit chat.

Beverly had jokingly said it was a nice change of pace from Richie’s normal chatter which had actually gotten her a look from Eddie who didn’t seem to care if she was joking or not. It had been all the encouragement Richie needed to keep his mouth running until the next day when the lady across the street found Georgie.

Eddie nor any other loser had a thing to say about filling the silence after that or about Richie’s lack of incessant talking.

By the time they made it back to the Kaspbrak residence, Sonia was already outside waiting.

“Night,” it was nearly a whisper but they heard it as Eddie dismounted, walking his bike around the yard and following his mother inside who didn’t so much as look at them for once.

Maybe she was pleased that he wasn’t going home alone? Whatever it was, she wasn’t yelling or giving them derogatory looks so they took it in stride. Riding off, Stan waved Richie off, and the dark haired boy peddled home as fast as he could hoping that his Eds got at least some more sleep that night and that all his friends made it home safe.

Eddie ate his dinner rather unenthusiastically, he’d have thought his mom making him spaghetti would have at least made him laugh, but in actuality he almost felt like crying. His mom didn’t seem to notice in favor of stuffing her own face.

“Oh Eddie-bear, I was on the phone with my sisters and you should know they’ve been dying for us to fly out and see them! I was thinking sometime next summer, I know how the heat burns your sweet skin,” 

He was really out of it to not even protest or think through spending his next summer in Poland with his obnoxious aunts who will likely try to wed him with some girl there. Then again he also knew there was a huge chance that his mother wouldn’t even make the flight.

He had enough to worry about now rather than what would likely not even occur next year. She seemed to take his silence for acceptance, raging about the gossip she overheard at the pharmacy and continued along to his slight sounds of agreement, most of it just his chewing.

After his meal was finished, he blindly followed his mother to the living room, settling on the couch as her shows droned on, his mind returning to the one thing, one person that mattered: Richie.

Gentleman and Richie weren’t two things that went hand in hand, but Eddie could admit it had been rather chivalrous of him to hold him while he slept. The more he looked back on everything Richie had done for him during their friendship, Eddie knew why he’d fallen so hard.

Eddie understood that Richie’s outside persona made him seem either obnoxious or the typical life of the party, someone untouchable, but not to Eddie. They had their own language, their own stream of consciousness that kept them tethered. 

Eddie loved him, more than he knew what to do with. More than he knew how to act on, and more than he ever thought possible. 

Richie had changed everything. When he was little it had just but him and Bill, and Eddie admitted readily he’d found out he was attracted to other boy’s because of Bill, but even when he was little Eddie was smart enough to know attraction wasn’t enough to achieve the love he was seeking, and he wouldn’t trade Bill’s friendship for anything.

It was Richie who came and called him cute, obnoxiously loud and insisting they spend time together even when they’d only just met. 

Bill pressed that he tell him, Eddie wanted too, he really did. Except he couldn’t find the courage to do so, and that alone made him question did he really want to tell Richie? If only he hadn’t been brought up to question every waking thought he had, every feeling too, maybe he could tell him.

It was too much to think about now Eddie decided, knowing he had no actual control over his anxiety and or brain, but consciously deciding not too was an illusion of control that he’d hold to with a steel grip and unprotected heart.

Eddie knew it was time for bed when the horrendous late night talk show started up, his mother opening her mouth and shutting in proudly when she already saw him standing to head to bed. Placing the nightly mandatory kiss to her cheek, Eddie shakily made his way up the creaky steps. Paranoia prickled at the back of his neck at the slight sounds, making him repeat under his breath, “There is no stupid clown in the house going to abduct you,” he knew that for sure because his mother held down there house like Fort Knox, nothing got in- except Richie - and nothing got out- unless she let him.

It was bitterly laughable that her unfounded protection had become actual protection.

Eddie knew as he unclipped his fanny pack and placed it on his desk that it was wishful thinking that he’d fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Pulling up his covers around his shoulders, Eddie bunched his pillow into his arms, a very faint smell of his taller...counterpart lingering. Not having to hide the blush fanning over his face, Eddie expertly held and laid his head on the fullest part of fabric, imagining it was a bony chest with a firm lulling heartbeat.

Thankfully all his anxiety and paranoia (Hypochondria) made him an experienced imagist, so it wasn’t too hard to convince his sleep wilting head that his favorite cologne smelling boy was with him. 

Sleeps tendrils still so far away, Eddie did what he did best, especially in the company of Richie, fake Richie too, started to speak. Mindlessly chattering because his head was no longer straight and his limbs were slowly becoming one with his mattress, Eddie didn’t realize as his one sided conversation ended, a whispered confession of love were the last words to leave his lips as he fell asleep.

The losers did their best not to worry about Eddie not answering the door, Sonia’s car was absent but it was around the time she went to church. It was possible she’d dragged Eddie with her but it didn’t seem likely in that she didn’t like Eddie there in case he got sick with all those people around.

“I’m going to climb up,” Richie announced easily, feeling only slightly apprehensive that he may accidentally scare Eddie again if he was home. He’d promised not to sneak in at nighttime, maybe he’d get a pass in the light.

Body acting on mainly muscle memory, Richie peaked his head through his favorite asthmatics window, his smile growing fond at the sight he saw through the cracked curtains. Little Eddie Kaspbrak sleeping soundly at almost one in the afternoon, the dark circles under his eyes receded and the only noticeable traces of anything on his skin being creases from the pillow he was twisted around.

It was a vulnerable sight that Richie knew no one was meant to see, but he had now and that in itself was a gift. Making his way back down, the other losers turned to him expectantly, heads tilting as they took in his blissful and relieved expression.

“He’s asleep,” Richie explained looking almost stupidly pleased. The air around them fizzed with their collective exhale, understanding Richie’s loose shoulders because they felt it too. 

Eddie had needed to rest and they were grateful he seemed to finally get it.

Migrating towards a safe spot on the sidewalk, the losers were content to wait until he woke and came out to play if he ever came out at all. They wouldn’t be surprised if his small body fell into a mini coma and was ready tomorrow!

Chatting idly, the losers, especially the sleeping Eddie, were unaware three blocks behind them Betty Ribson was being carried off by a pale faced clown and dragged into the sewers, unable to call for the help she so desperately needed.

No one, not even the bullies of Derry seemed to care about the students' closeness the next day. Normally Eddie and Richie would only crush together outside of school in the confines of either of their bedrooms, but now Richie ate lunch with his arm around Eddie and other losers crowded in close. 

Every other lunch table looked the same, and only Bowers and his gang were brave or stupid enough to eat elsewhere.

“Eddie I’m pretty sure you slept a full twenty four hours, I didn’t even think that was possible,” Beverly laughed trying not to fall into the despair circling around them, while Eddie feeling no urge to retort or fight back on her words shrugged, leaning a little more into his trashmouth’s side and picking at his food which he intermediately sent towards Richie to eat as well.

“He needed it,” Richie responded, not in the mood and more than defensive over Eddie’s state. They were all in a funk, and floundering, and he didn’t want to laugh about Eddie finally getting some rest because it was a good thing that he did.

Honestly Richie and Eddie had expected Bill to say something in her defense but it didn’t come, the stuttering boy’s attention had been glued to the mute Staniel sitting beside him. 

The lighter haired boy had his hands crinkled at the bottom of his shorts the whole meal, they’d have pressed him to actually eat but they knew he would be going over to Bill’s house and there was a higher chance of him eating there than here.

Ben was too much of a pacifist to say anything either, even if it was something to defend the one he loved. Maybe when he got older that would change, but with kids coming up in pieces or vanishing without a trace there was no telling if he’d grow up at all. If any of them would.

His long rest wasn’t enough in that after he’d accomplished it he was quick to fall back into restlessness. Insomnia lingering like the stench of gunpowder in the air after a firework show.

It was irrational, idiotic, and something Eddie knew he’d berate any other person on the planet for doing, and yet it didn’t stop him from creeping down the stairs and out the door.

The moon beat down on him almost as prevelantly as the sun, his steps heavy as he shrugged down the road, routine taking him rather than his own will. He wanted Richie, then he could sleep, then he could be safe, then he could have Richie confirm he was hallucinating balloons and the ad nauseam winding of a jack in the box.

Maybe Richie could also confirm the tall painted man on the sidewalk in front of him wasn’t real either.

Eddie’s head moved heavily in the man’s gloved hands, his vision blurred as a thumb pried his mouth open and tilted his head back. Tears fell over his cheekbones but Eddie wasn’t quite sure when he started or why he was even crying at all.

His body was numb, but he was aware there was a large amount of pressure being exerted onto his person. He was reclined and strapped down to...a dentist chair? The giggling man in front of him inching forward his free hand with something Eddie wasn’t conscious enough to even be the least bit wary off.

The thick hollow object breached his lips and pressed onward, his gag reflex bubbling in an attempt to revolt against the intrusion. The clown's hands shifted and twisted, sending the tube further and further into Eddie’s slight form, stretching out his throat and running down his sternum and into his stomach.

Choking the teen until he managed to pull in with his nose and exhale in a deep nameless rhythm. His achievement in breath was rewarded with a pat to the head and something new being poured straight into the tube.

The effect on his stomach was immediate, a boiling cramp threatening to explode from his chest like that movie Richie had dragged him too.

“Always taking your medicine like a good boy Eddie,” The clown complimented in his gravelly drawl, “So as a rewarded, I’m going to make you laugh, we all laugh downhere,”

The small boy remained unable to dwell on how this man even knew his name as a mask was strapped onto his face, his predicament forcing him to inhale. Paining him with the task of laughing with his throat obstructed.

If it hadn’t been for a livid Sonia Kaspbrak banging on each of the losers doors that morning, they would have assumed Eddie had been locked inside rather than taken. The front door had been unlocked and the question shifted to did the kidnapper come in or had Eddie walked out?

They all knew, especially Richie knew Eddie wouldn’t have run away without saying something.

“That damn clown took him!” Richie snarled, pacing throughout the clubhouse with his teeth bared. Fist clenched at his sides as the other losers pressed themselves against the walls to escape his fury.

Bill looked just as furious and they knew why because under his breath the repeated words of, “I cannot lose another little brother,” they understood that, those two had known one another the longest, and Bill had somewhat pressed his sense of responsibility onto Eddie when they were young, making him an older brother before Georgie was even born.

The tides had shifted, whereas before they only had to stop Bill from plunging down into the sewers, now they were going to have to try and stop Richie from doing the same. Except they weren’t going to stop the two, in fact they were joining them somewhat begrudgingly. 

Stan’s galoshes kept the grey water away from his feet, the others beside Mike who’d managed to snag a pair of his grandpa's oversized working boots had to suffer through soaked sneakers and socks. Before they’d gone plundering in, Stan did Richie and Eddie a favor by taping down even the smallest of cuts littering the trashmouth’s legs. Richie couldn’t look for Eddie if he was dying from sepsis. 

Ben called out directions with his flashlight tucked under his chin, having found an old sectioned off overflow that he believed could easily be used as hideout. They didn’t bring much to defend themselves with either, Mike had his bolt gun and Richie a baseball bat, and Bev a piece of broken off fence with a sharpened point.

Overall they were hoping they didn’t have to use them, but they weren’t speaking for everyone, and they chose for possibly their own sanity the thought of indulging the probability they would get to use them on the killer clown.

Stories of the clown's origins were varied, some claimed it was just some insane ex carnie who didn’t leave with the circus he came to town with. Others believed it was just some sick dude who wasn’t even an actual clown, just some dude using the clown persona to disguise his true identity. The wackjobs and young children claimed he was some eldritch horror monster eating children. Most of the stories held a tiny bit of truth, and that main truth seemed to be the consumption of human flesh.

Not all the kids seemed to be eaten, a few had been found waterlogged with cuts and bruises. Some had marks on their wrist and ankles, even their throats. No body was hurt exactly the same.

The clown they believed was called Pennywise had been experimenting, and an even worse thought that apparently the cops had been trying to hide from the public, was they were going under the assumption their fates were based on the individual themselves. Meaning Pennywise was watching the children of Derry, and even if the man was an opportunist with his victims, it didn’t mean he wasn't prepared for whoever he’d managed to get his claws on.

They tried not to think about what they’re ends and anguish would be, and they hoped Eddie hadn’t gone through much if they weren’t already too late. The losers didn’t know what they’d do if they were too late, and Beverly shushed her own imagination because a haunting image of Richie holding Eddie's corpse flashed her in mind.

No...they had to find him.

In kidnappings it was likely the person was dead within the first two hours, but they suspended that thought knowing that rule didn’t apply to Pennywise. He either was prepared to kill on site or had the backings to torture his victim without any chance of interruption. Well...besides them if their assumption was correct.

If it was, they'd all be less than reassured by the police presence in their town, but they already didn’t have much hope in them to begin with. No one in the Bowers family was competent in anything that wasn’t actively hurting someone.

“Just another left and we’re there,” Ben announced quietly, they’d found out quickly the sewers echoed loudly and they didn’t want to risk alerting anyone to their presence without them being ready for it.

It was the smell that hit them first, after several hours in the sewer their noses had adjusted to the putrid scent of waste. The new odor left their sinuses aching, they'd found it and they were sure of it.

Turning around the corner, they immediately heard the creaking of the bat in Richie’s hand as his grip tightened. A staircase laid before them and a wide open room filled with cages they realized were actually large dog crates. Each cage had a tank zip-tied to its side, out of the ten cages three were actually filled, and the losers looked down at the conditions of the children with the uttermost feeling of antipathy.

A younger boy named Dean was almost dead in his cage, body convulsing with...laughter? A mask was placed onto his face, duct tape keeping it shut. His arms twisted and mangled along with his legs, his skin marred with bloodied rashes.

Betty came next, her legs completely gone, the bottom of her spine sticking out from her seemingly sawed away lower half. Again a mask was fixed to her face, but through her laughter they could hear her terrified words.

“I can’t feel my legs,” outwardly she didn’t seem to express her terror through her wrangled smile and laughter, but her red and leaking eyes displayed it well enough.

Lastly lay Eddie on his side, vomit on the floor beside him but far enough away that they knew Eddie had consciously moved to avoid it. There was an excess of tape holding his mouth shut so they knew it was his own as well, Pennywise must have wanted to keep the mask on even if Eddie threw up.

His eyes were closed, and there were the crinkles of a gentle less warped but still forced smile on his face, and Richie didn’t hesitate to run to him. The losers followed suit, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stop him.

Stan personally didn’t think he’d be able to look at a sewer grate or even drainage pipe without associating it with this sanguineous place. 

“We need to get the police now,” Beverly ground out, tearing her eyes away from a hysterical Betty. Richie’s world had faded out around him, static filling his ears and teeth gritting as he yanked open the damn cage his Eds was trapped in.

A haunting chuckle filled the air and five of the losers turned immediately to the clown himself, “Did you all come here to float too?” Richie didn’t so much as turn as his terrified friends started to fight, not as he carefully maneuvered the asthmatic out and away from the vomit and into his arms.

His fingers shaking in anger as he peeled away the tape with as much grace as he could muster. Eddie’s large puppy dog eyes fluttered, an immediate fear clouding them before they hazily locked onto Richie.

“It’s okay, I’m going to get you out of here Eds,” the reassurance didn’t stop the tears from slipping down the boy's cheeks or his immediate reaction of hiding his face in the taller boy’s throat.

Hefting himself up from the ground, Richie’s eyes opened all too comically at the sight before him. He’d missed the screams and catastrophic crashes and movement around them, not now. He recognized him. Richie recognized that bastard because everytime he went to visit his father at work he’d given him the creeps. Dentist Robert Gray. His torso was riddled with gaping holes courtesy of Beverly, and his head was gushing blood from the baseball bat that Bill had picked up after Richie had dropped it.

The man was on his knee, buckled from an injury Richie could only assume was from Mike’s bolt gun. Guilt bubbled within them now, not because they’d hurt the bastard but because they had to leave him and the other two kids to bring the police down to this prison.

They didn’t think they’d be alive when they got back, but they could offer little comfort. Running, Richie did his best not to trip in the rubbage as they burst back out into the light, startling some nearby adults who’d happened to set up a picnic unknowingly outside what they knew to be the gates of hell.

And unlike many of the other residents in Derry, they proved to be helpful. The man had run into the closest establishment with Bill to call the police while his wife helped wrap Eddie up in a blanket before leading the rest of them into the closest store and calling an ambulance. 

The day ended with fierce cries, body bags, a more than deserved arrest, and the passing of two more victims.

If he was being honest Richie didn’t know how he managed to get into Eddie’s room without Sonia Kaspbrak’s intervention but he’d done it. His short asthmatic seemed overjoyed at his presence though, and Richie was just the same.

Framing the teen’s face in his washed hands, encouraging him to loosen up. Eddie was thin and wan, his stomach had been pumped and his throat was rubbed raw. Fatigue held him in a vice yet fear kept him from that last squeeze that'd lead him to unconsciousness.

“You came for me,” Eddie murmured, looking at Richie all too adoringly.

“Wherever you go I follow,” Richie admitted boldly pressing his lips to the teen’s sweat matted hair.

“I’d do the same you know,” the sick boy barely rasped, words all dried out by his tongue. 

“I know you would, you love me too much to let me get eaten,” the second half came out jokingly because Richie truly hadn’t meant to say it outloud. He would be the one to accidentally confess his love.

“I do love you,” the words had Richie crawling up beside the smaller boy and cautiously tugging him into an embrace. Weak hands held back, a gracious sigh smothering itself into his neck.

"I love you too Eds,"

Richie and Eddie.

RichieandEddie , as it should be.