The other Losers are rejoicing in their youthful memories, in being alive to make more, but Richie can’t help but see what isn’t there anymore. He doesn't think he can ever go back to that time, not without everyone, not without--
He’s barely finished his thought when he catches sight of movement out of the corner of his eye. There, impossibly, in the shallows, is Eddie.
He’s young again, like the others. He has to be no older than 13 because his hair is straight, neatly swooping to frame his freckled face. His curls had only really started to come in as a teenager, ringlets that Sonia tried to contain and Richie loved to tease to even bigger volume.
The others are making a racket but Eddie doesn’t seem distracted, eyes locked on Richie. His mouth is closed for once, not contributing to the noise. He’s quieter than Richie has ever witnessed him be, at least before his deat--
Richie shakes his head to dislodge that image. Focuses on the Eddie in front of him.
“Come join us?” Richie asks, truly desperately hopeful for the first time since 1993 when he left Derry and foolishly thought life was going to get better instead of worse, as if anything could beat spending time with his six best friends.
Eddie shakes his head- no- at Richie’s question but he manages to look a little regretful, like when Sonia was on a rampage and he really didn’t think he could risk sneaking out of his house. That didn’t matter to Richie. He would simply circle back around the Kaspbrak property, hide his bike in the neighbors shrub, and climb the terrace under Eddie’s room. He’d drum their signal onto the pane- two quick taps, pause, three slow knocks- the same pattern Eddie would use in class to get Richie’s attention when he zoned out, bored of fifth period English. They used it all the time. It got beat into the dashboard of the car when the radio was on the fritz, the undercurrent to whatever petty topic they were happily squabbling over that day. Richie firmly squeezed it across the back of Eddie’s neck when he started to have a panic attack, inhaler empty. It had been pressed against Richie’s calf during movie nights when it was just the Losers then stomped against his toes when Ben’s kindness and Bill’s good looks got them just popular enough to be invited to a high school party. Always, it was a reminder, their personal code.
Eddie required it before he would slide open the window with a grumble. Richie didn’t get why it was necessary- it wasn’t like anyone else was going to be scaling his house to cram themselves through the wobbly frame- but he obliged nonetheless.
“You’re ridiculous. We’re going to get caught,” Eddie would whine, but his grip on Richie’s arm would be firm as he helped him climb inside.
“Maybe, one day,” Richie always laughed, tucking Eddie into his side as soon as his feet were on the ground to shake his frown into a smile, and then they’d spend an evening together instead of alone.
Richie can feel the droplets of water on his face from the other Losers splashing around but he’s loathe to tear his eyes away from Eddie to tell them to cut it out. It’s when he finally gets frustrated enough, vision almost completely obscured- when he starts to turn to yell at them- that’s when Eddie finally raises his arm to catch Richie’s attention. Richie immediately stops.
Eddie drags his pointer finger from the corner of his eye down his cheek. You’re crying, Richie’s brain supplies for him, putting words to the motions Eddie is making. Those are tears.
Richie thinks about what he would do when Eddie was upset, when Sonia locked his door, when his anxiety trapped him in his mind. Richie moves towards him instinctively, away from the group.
Eddie takes a step back and puts his hand up, the universal sign for stop. Richie pauses, helpless to do anything other than what Eddie tells him to at this point. He’d drown himself if Eddie said to do it, he thinks a little hysterically. He’d put rocks in his shoes and calmly sink into the abyss without a second thought. He feels 12 again, eager for attention and, beyond that, desperate to be told what to do.
Eddie waits to make sure Richie isn’t moving closer and then ducks under the water. Richie loses his breath when Eddie disappears from his sight. No, not again, the voice inside his head screams. Neibolt is crumbling in the ripples made from Eddie’s body dropping into the quarry.
When Eddie resurfaces he’s 40, as old as he’s ever going to be. Richie tries to memorize the lines on his face, the stern pull between his eyes that surely would have wrinkled without Richie there to smooth out his stress with a joke or, even better, with a gentle brush of his fingertips across Eddie’s forehead, followed by his lips.
Eddie slaps the water twice to get his attention. Richie refocuses on the present instead of the future that’ll never be.
Eddie brings his pointer finger back to his eye but doesn’t drag it down his face again. After a beat, he presses his hand to form half a heart over his chest. Richie knows he’s crying again when Eddie completes his movements by pointing directly at Richie. Richie has been trying to worm his way into the limelight since he was a kid, has been on stage in front of thousands as an adult, but he’s never felt as seen as he does in that moment.
They’ve always communicated better through actions rather than words anyways. Richie had gotten used to reading between the lines but he doesn’t even really have to here. It’s clear what Eddie is saying.
I love you.
Eddie quickly flutters his hand against the surface again, twice, like last time, before repeating his movements. Richie is sure he understands what Eddie is saying until Eddie does it a third time, then a fourth, always tapping twice in between repetitions despite Richie’s unwavering attention.
The fifth cycle, Richie gets it. Two quick taps. Pause. Three slow knocks.
Rich-ie. I. Love. You.
Richie’s hands are numb from the quarry but he hurries to repeat the motions back at Eddie. Splashes himself in the face slapping the water twice in quick succession. Nearly stabs his eye out in his hurry to gesture at it. Uses both hands to clutch his heart, dramatic but honest. Opens his arms wide like he would when offering a hug as he points at Eddie. He feels the same as he did in English class, in the car, perched outside the Kaspbrak’s window, anytime he thought of Eddie.
Edd-ie. I. Love. You.
Eddie grins when he sees it click for Richie. For one beautiful second, with Richie’s confession still vibrating across the distance between them, Eddie shines as brightly as the sun. His face radiates pure joy, satisfaction etched across his features. This is what Eddie in love and loved looks like, Richie thinks wildly as he basks in the light and feels content for the first time in his life. There’s no nagging wish to make a comment or crack a joke. Richie savors it.
Then Eddie’s expression crumples before he can bring his hand up to hide his sob. A moment passes where each of them clutch their own cheek wishing they were holding each other.
“Stay,” Richie asks because he has to this time, has to verbalize it despite knowing that the answer is going to break him in two. It would be disrespectful to whoever or whatever is granting them this second chance if he didn’t at least try, leaving nothing important unsaid.
Eddie smiles again, much smaller now but still just as lovely. Richie feels warm all over despite the frigid water.
Eddie points over his shoulder at the shore. Another curly haired man is there on the rocks and Richie never got the chance to see forty year old Stanley but with the neatly creased pants and soft sweater, he’s sure it’s him. His head is tilted up to the sky, sharp eyes probably tracking a tiny spec in the clouds better than Richie with his four inch thick glasses ever could.
Eddie drops his hand back to the water, palm up reaching for Richie, then smiles once more when Richie mimics the gesture by extending his own arm forward. Eddie closes his fingers into a fist twice quickly then three times slowly, a heartbeat. Richie can almost feel his own hand being squeezed. Eddie brings the tips of his fingers to his lips and blows Richie a kiss. Richie manages a grin at Eddie’s antics. He moves to catch it with one hand, tucking it close to his chest, before using the other to blow his own kiss back. Eddie laughs, snagging it out of thin air and pressing it gently into the dimple on his cheek.
Richie knows Eddie has prepared him as much as he could for the end. It hurts but Richie forces himself to tilt his chin up. Okay, he tells Eddie because he knows if he doesn’t Eddie will never make the first move. Eddie would never abandon him if Richie really needed him to stay. But then they’d be standing still here forever, frozen in time when love shouldn’t be stagnant. So Richie lets him go.
Eddie nods back, understanding as he always has. He lets his gaze linger on Richie’s face one last time, warming Richie from the inside, before turning away to wade to the shore.
Richie had guessed that Stan was watching a bird but when his attention snaps immediately to the water once Eddie turns around, Richie realizes that maybe he was just giving them privacy for their goodbye.
Take care of him for me, Richie thinks desperately, holding eye contact with Stan as Eddie walks away from him, leaving him once again. Until I can get there.
Stan, always a little too grown up for his age, looks more serious than he ever had as a precocious child. He solemnly lifts his hand in the air with thumb and pinky touching. Scout’s honor.
Eddie doesn’t look back at the quarry when he reaches the shore, just collects Stan with a glance. Richie watches until they disappear into the woods and knows he’s never going to come back to Derry again. Neither Eddie nor Stan are still here so there’s no reason for him to be.
He can still feel the aftershocks of Eddie’s hand in his and when he looks down grown up Bev’s fingers are tangling with his own. Richie turns back to the other Losers. They’ve quieted down, surrounding him. Their movements are soft now, gentle waves rocking him in a soothing rhythm rather than a storm threatening to send him under.
As Mike places his arm around Richie’s shoulders and Ben and Bill close ranks with the other two, Richie shuts his eyes and recalls the way Eddie looked there in the water, beloved. It was only for a quick moment, cruelly short, but it was all they could secure so Richie treasures it. Richie’s memory is going to have to sustain him for a lifetime, alone.
But that’s okay. Because now Richie knows Eddie is waiting for him. And then they’ll have an eternity, together.