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hit me baby one more time

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After they finish splashing around in the lake and unsuccessfully trying to wash off their collective trauma, what’s left of the lucky seven head back to the Inn and go the fuck to sleep. Or, at least, that’s what Richie does. He doesn’t know what everyone else is doing - Bev and Ben head back to the Inn but he doesn’t think they’re going to sleep, Mike might head home and Bill does go to the Inn but he also might leave with Mike - and Richie can’t bring himself to care. They’re alive and they’re staying that way, which is what matters. 

It’s around midday when Richie finally collapses onto a bed. He’s still damp. He’s fully clothed apart from his shoes, which he takes off and throws across the room. He’s reeling and shaking and trying very hard not to think about everything that just happened, because when he does he lapses right back into the choking sobs that had made everyone crowd around him in a hug at the lake.

Richie doesn’t want to cry. He doesn’t want to think about Eddie’s body, unreachable under the tons of debris from IT’s lair. He doesn’t want to think about the deadlights, about whatever shit he saw in there and then promptly forgot as soon as IT let him go. He wants to check the fuck out and deal with everything later.

It takes him less than thirty seconds for sleep to drag him under, and he goes with an overwhelming sense of relief.

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as he falls asleep, Richie wakes up.

It’s the weirdest jolt awake he’s ever gotten, and he once woke up to find that his college friends had pushed his air mattress onto a lake and he was a dozen feet from shore. 

This is weirder. The bone-deep weariness is gone, replaced by adrenaline and barely-repressed terror. He’s also not lying down - he’s standing, and it’s night time again, and his mouth is moving.

Richie hears himself finish saying Let’s kill this clown and it’s only when he finishes forming the n that reality sets in. What the fuck -

He whirls around. Everyone’s standing around him, just like they were last night - they’re in front of the fucking house, it’s standing again.

“What the fuck,” Richie croaks. “No, come on - what’s going on? Ohhhh fuck.”

He only lets himself stare at it for a few seconds of unbridled hate before he keeps looking at the others, who are now staring at him, pausing from where they’d all taken a step towards the house before looking back and stopping to watch Richie’s nervous breakdown.

Which, okay, it isn’t - but it’s close. Richie’s swearing and staring and nothing is sinking in properly - is this a dream? He pinches himself and swears again. Okay, not a dream. Oh, god. He’s back. They’re back, and Richie’s breathing like Eddie does before he reaches for his inhaler - 

Richie freezes, and then looks over, letting his gaze settle on Eddie for the first time since he found himself standing. Relief floods through him, but it’s edged - no way this is real. This has to be a trick, they didn’t kill IT after all -

“Richie,” Bill says from the steps up to the house. “You okay?”

Richie doesn’t look at him. He can’t tear his eyes away from Eddie, who is looking back at Richie with his brow furrowed in that stupidly fucking adorable way it does. He has his cheek bandage and his dumb forehead-flashlight hanging around his neck.

“Eddie,” Richie breathes. 

Eddie’s eyebrows furrow further. He glances around at the others, then back at Richie as Richie stumbles over.

“Whoa, hey, what’s-”

Richie reaches up a shaking hand and puts it on Eddie’s stomach. He presses. It’s firm, no holes whatsoever.

“Uhhh,” Eddie says. “Is this a bit? Is this a really inopportune bit? ‘Cause I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Richie, but this is kind of an important moment-”

“What the fuck ,” Richie says, not for the first or last time, and lurches forwards to hug him. Eddie makes a noise, but Richie doesn’t give a shit. He clings around Eddie’s neck and lets his breathing go all wobbly and tries not to think of the last time he clutched at Eddie like this, when Eddie was limp and unmoving in his arms, the others pulling at him as IT’s lair crumbled around them.

“Whoa, hey-” Eddie’s arms come up and circle Richie’s back, light and then tighter. “Richie-”

“You’re not dead,” Richie says, muffled into his neck. “Holy shit.” 

“Uhhh,” Eddie says. He pats Richie’s back. “No, I’m very much alive right now. Hey, Rich, what the fuck-”

Richie pulls back enough to see Eddie’s face, his gorgeous, confused face and eyes that meet Richie’s except when they’re glancing over Richie’s shoulder to give looks to the others.

Richie takes Eddie’s face in his hands and shakes his face, just a little. He lets out a laugh and then turns back to the others. He lets go of Eddie’s face, but grabs onto his elbow just in case.

“You okay, Richie,” Ben asks.

“No I am fucking not, thank you for asking,” Richie says. He’s still looking around, at the house and the others and Eddie, always back to Eddie, gaze darting to his stomach over and over like IT’s arm is gonna come bursting through it any minute, Alien-style.

Bill says, “W-what’s-”

“This has happened before,” Richie says. “I just did this.”

Eddie starts, “Like-”

“Nope! No, shut your mouth, Spaghetti. I mean I’ve done this. Okay? I - I just - a minute ago I was at the Inn and it was the next day. Now I’m back here and- do any of you guys remember too?”

He looks around hopefully. He gets concerned stares in return.

“This is a really bad bit, Trashmouth,” Eddie says.

Richie lets out a string of consonants at him, mostly hissed through his teeth. “It’s not a BIT, you fucking-”

His voice breaks. To his horror, he starts crying for what feels like the hundredth time in the last 24 hours. Everyone seems just as horrified as he is that he’s crying, though they try to be good about it - Bev starts reaching for him and everyone else starts making worried noises after their first reaction, which is mostly wide-eyed panic.

Richie shrugs Bev off. He doesn’t let go of Eddie.

“I’m not fucking with you guys,” he says. “I swear. I swear on Stan, alright? I’ve lived this before. I’ve been - I don’t know. Is this real? Are you guys real or just some fucked up shit that IT invented?”

He takes a step away from the group, and they all start to move forwards, but stop when Richie starts making hissing noises again, pointing at them all like it’ll ward them off. It’s only when Eddie says, “We’re real, Richie,” that he realizes that he’s still clutching Eddie’s arm. He’s dragged Eddie away with him.

“How about you tell us what you’re talking about,” Mike says. 

Everyone nods. They’re all trading looks like Richie might have lost his marbles, which is pretty rich considering that they’re crowded outside a house to kill a clown from outer space.

“Right,” Richie says. He glances up at the house and drops Eddie’s arm. “Shit. Fuck. I hate this so much. Okay, so -”

 

 

 

 

He stumbles through an explanation. There’s a lot of hand gestures and the group interrupting to say things like, “Wait, so the spider legs came out of Stan’s face” and a few times Richie has to stop and take deep breaths so he won’t start crying again.

When he finishes - and then we all swam in the lake, Bev said something about how Eddie would hate getting clean in dirty water and then her and Ben made out ‘cause apparently you guys sorted your shit out at some point and then we all went back to the Inn, probably, maybe, I don’t know, I definitely did and then I went to sleep and suddenly I was here - everyone stays silent for a while. Either no one looks at each other or they glance and look away - at Ben and Bev, who keep sneaking glances, Bev dazed and Ben blushing like hell when they’re not lost in the knowledge of what they’ve just been told.

Everyone keeps glancing at Eddie, who mostly stares at the ground or at Richie. Richie doesn’t let himself stare back.

“Okay,” Mike says. “This is - this is good. We can plan-”

“This is g-good?” Bill turns to him. “Your plan doesn’t work , Mike.”

“But we know we can kill IT! We can-”

“-so much goes wr-wrong, Mike! One thing out of place and all of us might get trapped down there instead of j-just Eddie!”

The group goes silent again. Eddie’s breath goes raspy. Richie watches him get out his inhaler and take a pull.

“There are so many variables,” Bev says. “Even if we did go in and try to do everything exactly how it happened with Richie, we couldn’t do it. It’d be different no matter what.” 

“Let’s goddamn hope,” Eddie says.

Richie laughs. It cracks on the end, but Eddie looks relieved at the sound anyway.

“Should we turn back,” Ben asks. “Find out what’s happening with Richie? It sounds - bad.”

“No,” Bill says instantly. He scrubs his hands down his face. “There’s a lot that can go wrong, but - this is - IT’s not seeing another sunrise. It has to be tonight. I’m not letting IT hurt anyone else.”

He glances over at Eddie when he says it, and his face flickers, but then goes back to sheer determination.

“Alright,” Ben says, and slowly, the rest of the group follows suit.

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa ,” Richie says. “Did you guys not hear the whole Eddie’s lifeless body ends up abandoned under the remains of IT’s lair part? You know, the part where your friend gets fucking killed?”

I heard that part,” Eddie says.

Richie slaps his shoulder. “There we go! I say Eds and me hang out here.”

“We can’t kill it unless we’re all together,” Bill says. “It has to be all of us or-”

“Are you not hearing me,” Richie says. “Eddie DIES, Bill. He bleeds out on the floor.”

“I know, but-” Bill hesitates.

Richie steps up towards him. “But?”

Bill’s determined face doesn’t waver. “We’ll be better this time.”

“Says who?”

“Says all of us. We know better now, we know what to look out for-”

“It’s gonna be a clusterfuck of crazy shit down there,” Richie says. “Sure, I just gave you the lowdown, but maybe IT knows too-”

“I know-” 

“Maybe IT’s already got a new shitstorm to throw at us when we get down there-”

“Are you coming or not, Richie?”

Richie’s jaw snaps shut. He glares, but Bill stares back, steady and unflinching and… okay, yes, desperate. Now or never .

Richie glances over at Eddie. “You don’t have to come,” he says.

Eddie gives a jerky shrug. “I know, but - I can’t leave you guys. I’ll just - be sure to avoid IT’s long dagger arms.”

“Oh, when you put it that way,” Richie says, and doesn’t bother finishing. The group all start moving towards the house and Richie sighs, but starts to follow. Hi-ho fucking silver.

As they climb the steps, Eddie nudges Richie’s elbow.

“Didn’t know you cared so much,” he says. He obviously means it as a joke, something to try to alleviate the atmosphere, but it hits entirely wrong, all sharp edges where Richie’s just been scraped raw.

Fuck you, Eds,” he snaps. 

Eddie’s eyes go wide. “I-”

“I know!” Richie pinches at the bridge of his nose hard enough to hurt. “I - sorry. I’m sorry.”

He wants to say more - he never thought he’d see Ed again, there’s still so much shit Richie never had the balls to say - but they’re heading into the sewers and the group is with them and Eddie is looking at Richie like he might shatter if he gets touched the wrong way, and there’s not - there’s not time . Hilariously. There’s no fucking time .

Eddie’s still looking at him weirdly. “Hey, Rich, I didn’t mean-”

They get past the door and it swings shut behind them. Richie lets out a groan that’s only half-fear and then everything starts to happen, and none of it’s good, just like last time.

 

 

 

 

 

After that, it’s shockingly familiar. Either IT doesn’t know that Richie’s done this before, or IT’s fucking with him by pretending not to remember. Richie tries not to think much about that possibility. 

Things go almost exactly how they went last time, but with a series of shortcuts. They don’t get separated as often. When Eddie and Richie get to the doors, they open VERY SCARY on the first try.

Richie tries not to get caught in the deadlights. This time, there isn’t a reason for him to leap out and make a distraction, so he thinks he’s in the home run, but he’s midway through running to help Mike from getting crushed when he glances at IT to see if he needs to dodge and then - 

The deadlights catch him. Whatever happens in them, he doesn’t remember later.

When he comes to, he’s lying on the ground and Eddie is lying next to him. 

He’s already dead.

Richie stares. He’d specifically told Eddie not to throw anything at IT, they’d given the arrow to Bill instead - what had happened

“No,” Richie hears himself say. “Wait-”

He pushes himself up and rolls Eddie towards him. There’s a huge gash in his neck. His eyes are at half-mast.

What were your last words this time , Richie wonders, through the numb haze.

“Eds,” he whispers.

Eddie doesn’t respond. He’s still very warm. 

Around him, everyone is yelling. It’s the same outraged, anguished yelling that had happened when Ed got stabbed through the stomach, except last time Eddie had still been around long enough to witness it.

Richie touches Eddie’s neck, just where the skin starts to split open.

Off to the right, Ben screams his name.

Richie closes his eyes, just for a second. Then he gets up and joins in the fight.

 

 

 

 

Again, Richie tries to get them to bring Eddie’s body. Again, the group has to all but drag him out. Again, when they watch the house implode in on itself, Richie screams Eddie’s name and has to get held back. This time it’s with a renewed anger - once is an accident, twice is carelessness.

“How could we let it happen again ,” he spits as the house settles into rubble and the street goes silent. The only noise is his yelling. He whirls to face the others. “How! I fucking told you, what the fuck happened while I was getting deadlighted-”

“Eddie tried to get you out of the deadlights,” Mike says. He’s not crying, but there are old tears on his cheeks. “He tried to pull you down-”

“Okay, got it.” Richie squats on the ground. Does some deep breathing. He’s done this before, he can do it again. It’s just - the rest of his life, take two.

Unless -

He stands back up. “So I guess everyone wants to go the fucking lake, huh?”

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s thinking the same thing when Richie heads back to the inn rather than go to the lake: what if it happens again? What if he goes to sleep and - 

None of them say it, but Richie can tell. He’d be thinking the same thing.

He heads home, still covered in rubble and dust and Eddie’s fucking blood. This time he does strip out of his clothes before he climbs into bed, and then he lies there, shaking.

“Come on,” he says. He squeezes his eyes shut. “Fuck. Once more with feeling. Come on .”

It takes him a long time to fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

When he wakes up, he’s standing. He’s in the clothes he just took off, and they’re clean. He’s standing in front of a house he’s seen fall down twice now and he’s just finishing the words Let’s kill this clown.

“-oh thank fuck,” he adds, sagging. “Oh, so weird to be thankful. Oh, shit . Guys, stop what you’re doing right now.”

No one had started moving towards the house yet, so there’s nothing to stop. 

Richie looks over at Eddie. Eddie looks back at him, and the only injury he has is the one on his cheek. He’s staring at Eddie expectantly, and Richie wants to start crying again.

Instead he says, “You guys remember the movie Groundhog Day ?”

 

 

 

 

 

They take some more convincing this time around, probably because Richie is less hysterical this time. It takes him swearing on Stan again and also having another mini-breakdown over how fucking tired he is of this for them to start believing him.

“Let’s just put it off,” Richie begs. “Let’s just - go back to the Inn and do this tomorrow, okay? It’ll be fun, we’ll make it a sleepover. We’ll use a lighter to roast marshmallows like we used to!”

“We’ll s-still have to deal with IT,” Bill says, which is about as considering as Richie has heard him be about not charging in right this second. 

“I know,” Richie says. “But-”

Ben asks, “Are we more worried about breaking the loop or killing IT?”

They all look at Richie.

He grinds his teeth. “Obviously I want that psychopath fucker dead. But - guys, he’s not dead dead. He’s - temporarily dead and then I’m back here and he’s alive again. Okay? We’re killing him for nothing. We’re killing him and then all of us are back here ready to kill him again .”

That gets him some more consideration.

“We’ll kill him,” Richie says. “Just - tomorrow. If we ever make it that far.”

Bill looks towards the house. His jaw twitches.

“You said that IT didn’t change anything in his attacks,” Mike says. “What if we-”

Richie groans, long and loud.

“It’s a g-good idea,” Bill says. “If IT does the same thing again-”

“Then Eddie dies!” Richie flings an arm out in his direction. He hadn’t gone and clung to him like a leech this time, thank god. “Okay? He dies. Just like the first two times.”

“We don’t know that,” Mike argues. “Those might have both been flukes.”

They stand there arguing in circles until Eddie says, “Okay, let’s just go IN already,” and Bill and Mike point at him like this solves everything.

Richie resists the urge to shake them all violently. Even Bev is on the getting-IT-over-with side, after flip-flopping for a bit.

He stalks over to Eddie and puts his hands on his shoulders. Looks down into his eyes, because Eddie’s still shorter than him, even after all these years.

“Eds,” Richie says. “You will die. Painfully.”

Eddie pauses, but not for long.

“I’ll dodge.”

“You won’t. You’ll try-

“I’ll be careful.” 

“For fuck’s sake, I should just wrap you up in a bow and deliver you right onto IT’s fucking arm spike-”

“Richie.” Eddie grips his elbows. Gives him what Richie supposes is supposed to be a reassuring shake. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“Great,” Richie says. “Give me a blood oath to that promise.”

“What? No.”

“Right now, or I’m not going in.”

Eddie scrunches up his face and Richie’s chest twists painfully. How could he ever forget him? Eddie Kaspbrack, who he’d been pathetically in love with since they were kids. Even evil clown magic shouldn’t have erased the mark Eddie had made on him.

“Blood oath,” Richie says. “Or nothing.”

“Go fuck yourself, I’m not giving myself an open wound when I’m just about to go into the sewers, do you know how filthy-”

“I’m 100% aware, you’ve told us a million times, it’s stamped on all of our-”

They argue up until Beverly gets out a pin from her pocket and tells Eddie to just get it over with. Eddie takes it, but doesn’t let up on the expression. Richie would love this if he wasn’t in the middle of a neverending nightmare.

“You’re the bane of my entire existence,” Eddie says, as he sticks a pin into his finger. “I just want you to know that.”

Richie goes to say Love you too, Eddie Spaghetti, but it gets caught in his throat. 

“Whatever,” he says instead, and pricks his own finger. They press fingers so the blood intermingles. “Okay, now you’ve promised properly. We can go in.”

“I hate you,” Eddie says. He's making a disgusted face at the blood, at Richie's blood mixing with his. Honestly, Richie's surprised that Eddie gave into it in the first place.

Richie gives him a middle-finger salute and barrels to the front of the group to be first into the house.

 

 

 

 

Richie doesn’t get caught in the deadlights.

Eddie dies anyway.

He does dodge, but not fast enough. Richie gives a yell of warning but it’s too late, a spike bursts out of Eddie’s stomach and Eddie convulses in shock and everyone lets out a scream like they’re the ones who’ve been stabbed -

There’s other shit to do, but Richie runs to Eddie anyway. IT retracts its spike and Eddie crumples to the ground just in time for Richie to catch his head. He takes off his jacket, balls it up against the wound. 

“Fuck you,” Richie says. “You promised , do blood oaths mean nothing to you anymore-”

Eddie is staring at him, and there’s some of the shock there that he’d got last time from the others - it’s real, Richie was right, oh fuck - and it would be validating if it wasn’t, y’know, the worst thing to ever happen in Richie’s life, for the third time.

“Please don’t go,” Richie says. He leans in and presses their foreheads together.

Eddie blinks up at him. Sounds keep falling from his mouth, unintended noises of pain that break Richie’s fucking heart.

Not again - God, why does this keep happening - 

“Wh-” Eddie wets his lips. They’re already wet with blood, but whatever. “What are my last words?”

Richie chokes a laugh. “Uh. I fucked your mom.”

“Wh - really?”

“Yeah. It was hilarious, Eds.”

“I’m a riot,” Eddie croaks. His breath hitches, bubbles with blood. Richie sobs and presses his jacket against the wound, but Eddie doesn’t even wince.

“Richie-”

“What?”

“Don’t… call me Eds. You know I...”

Eddie’s head lolls. Richie tries to straighten it, but his eyes are blank.

Please , Richie thinks. Please

In the distance, a scream. Someone - Mike - is at Richie’s back, yanking at his shoulder.

“He’s gone,” Mike is saying, sounding like he’s choking on it. “Fuck - we gotta go help Bev, we gotta-”

Richie lowers Eddie to the ground. He gets up, but mostly because Mike keeps yanking at him.

 

 

 

 

It’s a surprise to everyone when Bill dies. 

He dies on the way out, which is infuriating. He gets crushed by a falling bit of rock before they even get back to the house.

When they do get outside, Richie doesn’t scream for Eddie, or in any case, Bill. He doesn’t even watch the house crumble. Instead he starts walking towards the Inn, ignoring the yells of the others behind him when they eventually notice him leaving.

“I’ll see you guys later,” he calls back at them.

He doesn’t even bother taking his shoes off when he gets to bed. He pulls the covers over his head and stays silent, not shaking, not crying, just waiting. 

Again , he thinks. Bring it on.

 

 

 

 

Let’s kill this clown , Richie says.

And they do. They kill the fucking clown over and over again. Sometimes Bill dies and sometimes Bev dies. Everyone gets a turn, except for fucking Richie. He hasn’t died once.

Eddie always dies, every single time. No matter what else happens, that’s the constant. He dies choking on his own blood. He dies slowly and he dies fast and he dies in Richie’s arms or Bev’s arms or alone in a locked room in the house before even getting to the lair. He dies telling Richie not to call him Eds or not to call him Spaghetti  or sometimes with no words at all, just a gasp or a cry. 

No matter how he dies, Richie always tries to get to him before it happens. He doesn't know why he keeps doing it to himself when it tears him the fuck up every time, makes him feel like his guts have been ripped out, rearranged and shoved back in. He doesn't know, except he figures it out pretty fucking fast: he can't leave Eddie. He fucking can't, even if Eddie's coughing on his own blood or if he's already dead and Richie's too late - he can't leave Eddie, and he always fights it when the others try to make him. If Eddie dies in the lair, 9 times out of ten they don't have time to get him out. On the times that they can, they take Eddie back to the Inn and lie him down on a bed and Richie lies next to him until he falls asleep and the loop starts again.

By now, he thinks it's something to do with Eddie. There aren't any constants in the loops, except for Eddie's death. Even IT isn’t a constant. They don’t always kill IT. In the loops where Richie talks the others out of going into the house, IT appears in the Inn and fucks them all up, and Eddie dies, sometimes along with one or two others, sometimes not. 

Sometimes he doesn't even show up. Eddie's deaths are less disturbing in those, but no less painful - he gets hit by a car or chokes on a fucking cashew or slips down a step and cracks his head open. 

At this point, Richie is, like, 70% sure IT isn't the one pulling the strings on this time loop. There's no way IT would hold out this long without taunting the fuck out of Richie, or at least that's what he tells himself. When Richie yells at IT about it, IT always looks at Richie like he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about but wants to exploit whatever it is anyway, which is - comforting. As comforting as it can get, anyway.

Eddie has to be the key to - whatever the fuck is happening. Surely if he manages to save Eddie, he'll get out of the loop.

After the fifteenth loop, Richie doesn’t always tell the others about what's going to happen. He just marches in, hopes for the best, prepares for the worst, and watches the carnage unfold around him. It’s easier making mistakes when you know they won’t matter in a few hours. Eventually everything starts to seem disposable - so what if he snaps at Bev? So what if he screams or cries or hugs Eddie until everyone gets concerned about his mental health? It'll all be erased when he goes to sleep or the clock ticks over. 

Around the twentieth loop, Richie tries to stay behind in the lair. He won’t budge from Eddie’s body, and when they try to drag him out he punches Mike in the face.

“I’ll come back,” he yells at them, because this is one of the times he’s bothered to tell them about the loop. “It’s fine! Fucking scram !”

“We’re not leaving you,” Bev screams. 

“Yes you fucking are, go ! I’ll be fine!”

When Ben tries to drag him out, Richie stabs him in the shoulder with a shard of rock. That just means Ben picks him up with his arms trapped at his sides.

“I’ll just slow you down,” Richie yells. “For fuck’s sake, guys, we don’t have time-”

Whatever Ben’s reply is, it’s cut off when they get hammered by a falling rock.

It doesn’t hurt. Richie gasps himself into awareness to find that he’s standing and saying Let’s kill this clown and oh god , he got all his friends killed.

He doesn’t go into the house for the next two loops. The group gives him betrayed looks, even when he explains the loop. He waits outside the house. The first loop, the house crumbles, but no one emerges. Richie goes to sleep on the sidewalk and wakes up again and doesn’t go in the house and nothing happens. The house stays standing. Richie stays there, watching the house and picturing his friends lying dead in a cavern, until nightfall comes again. 

He doesn’t fall asleep, but he still finds himself standing and saying Let’s kill this clown and trying not to cry and only kind of succeeding.

 

 

 

 

Richie isn’t really sure where to go from here, but he’s been pretty aimless for the last dozen loops, so it’s not a new situation. He’s gotten into a jag where he actually tries, which is nice. The motivation always lasts for a few loops, then fades, then comes back again. He’s enjoying it while it lasts.

“So I’m in a time loop,” he says after he feels himself finish saying the usual shit about the clown. He runs through the explanation - it’s gotten much more streamlined since the first time - and makes them believe it through handy shit he’s picked up in his travels, i.e. things he’s made them confess in past loops for this very purpose. Lot of embarrassing sex stuff and overall trauma that they definitely wouldn’t have told anyone, let alone Richie, unless the time loop was true. In any other situation, it’d be funny. But Richie’s really fucking tired.

“How many times have you done this,” Mike asks.

“Around 50,” Richie says.

“Around 50?”

“Hey, you lose count,” Richie says. “It’s not like I can keep a tally chart. I tried. Shockingly, it wasn’t there when I reset.”

The others wait. When Richie doesn’t continue, Bev says, “So what should we do?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Richie walks over to the stairs and sits down on the bottom one, splaying his legs out. “I’ve tried everything you’ve all suggested. Except for saving Eddie’s life, but that’s ‘cause I can’t, not ‘cause I haven’t tried.”

Mike says, “It seems like-”

“-keeping Eddie alive might be the key to stopping it, since it’s the only constant about any of this shit? Yeah, you always say that, thank you, Mike. We’ve tried that. It never works. One time we fucking rolled him in bubble wrap like Mrs. K always wanted to, and all that did was give IT an easy target when he appeared in the Inn. Eddie dies! We can’t stop it. One time he got hit by a car, IT wasn’t even involved!”

This is met with silence. Richie starts making a daisy chain.

“Wow,” Eddie says. “I hate this.”

Several of the group shoot him a look.

“Oh,” Eddie says. “Sorry, Richie.”

Richie waves a hand. “It’s fine.”

“Are you sure there’s nothing else that could stop it,” Ben says. “Anything Eddie-related? Maybe we need to… find something. Like the tokens. Or - or our memories, maybe one of us - or Eddie - needs to remember something?”

Richie shrugs. “Maybe.”

“You don’t seem very invested in this,” Mike says.

Richie shrugs again, this time making it a big display. “Why should I be, Mikey? Whatever we do, I’m gonna wake up in the middle of saying Let’s go kill this clown, and then I’m gonna have to watch Ed and maybe some of you die. I’m very tired, okay? I haven’t actually gotten to sleep since this started, I just get magically rejuvenated. My body is fine, but my mind is not jiving with this hip beat.”

Another silence. The group gives him looks of varying pity, which is whatever.

Eddie comes to sit next to him on the steps. He starts handing Richie daises for his chain, which would be enough to get Richie choked up in the first ten loops. As it is, he just says, “Thank you,” and continues to feel dead inside.

Richie slips another daisy into the chain. Eddie hands him another. Their fingers brush and Richie flashes back to summers of his childhood, his teenage years, all of them spent crazy over this fucking guy -

“Huh,” Richie says. He puts down the daisy chain and looks at Eddie.

“What,” Eddie says. 

Worth a shot , Richie thinks.

“I am a flaming homo,” he says. “And I’ve been in love with you since I was 12 and it turns out I still am.”

More silence. Richie doesn’t look away from Eddie, whose eyes are very wide and he keeps making noises in his throat like he wants to say something but has no idea what.

Richie slaps his own knees and pushes himself up. “Well! Let’s see if that does anything. Come on, intrepid adventurers.”

“Wh-” Bill clears his throat. “Sorry, what was that?”

“I’m seeing if that does anything,” Richie says, not stopping from his walk up the steps. “I’m guessing it’ll have the same effect as everything else we’ve tried so far, which is FUCK ALL, but we’ll see!”

“Richie,” Bev calls behind him.

Richie heads into the house. The others follow, and as soon as the last one enters the door snaps shut behind them and the shitstorm begins.

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t work. Eddie bleeds out in Richie’s arms and Richie clings like he always does, because no matter how he treats everything else in the world, he can’t give this up: Eddie dies and Richie clings.

“Richie,” Eddie says. He’s gurgling, blood spilling out of his mouth, and Richie wipes it away. “Richie-”

“That’s me,” Richie says. “God. I’m so sorry, Eds.”

He expects don’t call me Eds , which is a pretty popular choice when it comes to Eddie’s last words. But Eddie just stares up at him, blinking very slowly, blood misted over his eyelashes.

“Richie,” he says, like a benediction, or maybe a plea. He reaches up and touches Richie’s face, which is another thing he does sometimes when he’s dying, if he has enough strength to move his hands. “I… I’m sorry… I should’ve.... we…. could’ve…”

“It’s fine,” Richie says. “Hey. It’s fine, Eddie. Whatever it is.”

Eddie shakes his head. It looks like it takes effort. He tries to say Richie’s name again but doesn’t make it all the way.

Richie allows himself five seconds of sobs, then he lies Eddie down and gets up. He walks straight up to IT, and opens his mouth, but IT has already turned towards him, along with his deadlights.

Whatever happens while the deadlights have him, it must be lethal. When he becomes conscious again, he’s saying Let’s kill this clown .

 

 

 

 

 

Richie explains. It goes as well as it usually goes: a lot of questions, a lot of answers, a lot of tense, shocked silences. 

Richie sits on the steps again. Picks a daisy that he’s picked before and starts making a chain.

Again, surprisingly, Eddie comes to sit next to him.

“How’re you doing,” Richie asks him. In front of him, the group are throwing out ideas that Richie has already tried.

“Better than you,” Eddie says. He looks nervous and sad, which is par for the course with this kind of thing. “ Shit , Richie.”

Richie grins. “I know, right? Bummer.”

“It must be…” Eddie trails off.

“Eh,” Richie says. “Could be worse. Could be…”

He tries to come up with a your mom joke and for the life of him can’t do it. He lets it lie, can’t really bother coming up with anything else, and this seems to worry Eddie more.

“I’m tired,” Richie says. He grins again, but it’s softer than before.

“I bet,” Eddie says. He hesitates. Then he picks a daisy and gives it to Richie to add to the chain.

“Thanks,” Richie says. “So helpful. Where’s all this coming from?”

Eddie doesn’t reply. He slumps a little, and their shoulders brush.

“Hey,” he says. “Do you think me being alive will stop the loop? If you manage to keep me alive, is that the key, or is there another-”

“Dunno,” Richie says. “Probably. I do know that I don’t want to wake up to tomorrow if you’re dead in it, though.”

Eddie looks stricken. Richie thinks back to his expression after Richie had told him he loved him. Not the same face, but similar kind of shock.

“Like,” Richie says, mostly to add to it, “I think I’d rather stick in this loop than get out of it with you dead.”

Eddie’s eyebrow furrow harder than Richie has ever seen them. His lips part. He looks like he might cry, which would be something.

“It’s fine,” Richie says. “You won’t remember later.”

“That’s-” Eddie blinks hard and some of the wetness disappears. “That’s not - really?”

“Really what?”

“You’d rather...”

“Sure.” Richie links Eddie’s daisy into the chain. “So I guess it’s not all bad. Sure, I’m in an unending hellscape where I repeat the same 12 hours over and over, but could be worse. I could be - like, three weeks away from your death. A month? I don’t know how long it’s been.”

Eddie won’t stop staring. “We haven’t seen each other in decades .”

Richie shrugs. “Sandbox love never dies. Or something.”

He aims another grin at him, but Eddie’s face gives him pause. The grin falters and dies, and Richie thinks, not for the first time, about kissing Eddie Kaspbrak. He’s changed since Richie first loved him, of course he has - as Eddie said, it’s been decades. His face has lines, his shoulders are broad and somehow more rigid than before, if that’s possible. But he has the same eyes, the same overall stupid, pinched, lovely face that Richie fell in love with.

Why hasn’t he kissed him before this? He’s had so many opportunities. He’s stuck in a loop of no consequences. 

The answer, Richie is appalled to realize, is the same as it was when they were kids: Richie’s a fucking chicken when it comes to loving Eddie Kaspbrak in the way he wants to.

Still - no consequences in a timeline that won't exist in a few hours.

“I’d just like to preface this,” Richie says, “By saying that consequences don’t exist for me right now and also you only have to live with this memory for, like, six hours, tops.”

Eddie says, “Wh-”

Richie cuts him off. With his mouth. 

Eddie gasps. Richie doesn’t blame him. He tries to focus on Eddie’s lips against his, expecting maybe a second of shock before Eddie is pulling away, and that’s exactly what he gets: one moment of contact before Eddie jerks back, eyes wide.

The others are staring, but Richie doesn’t care. 

He starts to say sorry but only gets the s out before Eddie leans in and starts kissing him again. For real this time, with actual pressure. 

It doesn’t compute. Richie kisses back, but only on autopilot, which lasts for a few seconds before his brain kicks up into overdrive: wow, sure, this is happening for some reason.

Eddie’s hands are on his face. Richie determinedly doesn’t think of him choking on his own blood. Eddie’s thumb strokes a shaking line across Richie’s cheek.

Richie’s repeating chant of what the fuck what the fuck bottoms out and is replaced with a quiet, stunned, oh, for the rest of the kiss. Which lasts much longer than Richie expects for a pity kiss, or whatever the fuck this is.

Richie pulls back first. Eddie’s eyes stay closed for a second before fluttering open.

“Uhhhhhh,” Richie says. “What? Aren’t you married?”

“Huh?” Eddie genuinely seems to not remember for a second, then his face transforms. “Yes! I am. I am married. I - shit. Very married.”

“To a woman.”

“To a-” Eddie's face goes strangely blank for a second. He doesn't meet Richie's eyes. “Yeah.”

This is - unexpected. Richie is starting to think that Eddie hadn’t pulled out the big guns when he was giving Richie ammunition to tell other versions of himself to convince other-him that a time loop was real. Then he gets the feeling he used to get fleetingly as a teenager, which he sometimes thought was wish fulfillment and sometimes thought it could be true - maybe there were things that Eddie didn't let himself think about, to the point where he didn't know it was a secret he was keeping.

Because Richie knew up until his memories were taken, and even after that he knew it like he knew all his friends and his time in Derry: it was covered, hidden from him, but it was in his heart and his marrow. When it came back to him in increments after Mike's call, then in chunks after arriving in Derry, then in floods after talking to his friends and finding his token, everything clicked back into place: Derry. Screaming now I'm gonna kill this fucking clown. The Aladdin, the summers, the school years. Loving his friends. Loving Eddie. 

Of course, he'd thought, and it was like it had never been gone, because it hadn't. This whole time, it'd just been hidden from him.

“Um,” Beverly says.

Richie shakes himself out of it. Right.

Richie stands up. Puts his daisy chain in a circle around Eddie’s head.

“Okay,” he says. “Let’s go, I guess. Maybe that did something.”

“Someone owes me money,” Ben says. “I can’t remember who it is, but one of you guys-”

“I think it was me,” Bev says, at the same time that Bill says the same thing.

Richie puts his hands on his hips. “Ha ha, guys. I’ll have you know that my gay love for him was kept under Fort Knox security.”

“I definitely remember talking about it with M-mike,” Bill says.

Because his brain is fried and it’s not his finest moment, Richie says it back to him in a smarmy voice like he’s teasing his sister. He glances over at Eddie, who has pulled off the flower chain-cum-crown but hasn’t dropped it. He’s holding it like he doesn’t know what to do with it, and he’s looking at Richie like he just learned something worth getting dazed about.

“Oh, right,” Richie says. “You didn’t know about my big gay love. Sometimes I assumed you knew. See, guys, I hid it from someone at least. Come on, into the hell house.”

Before he can go in, Eddie grabs his wrist. He glances back at the others, like he’d really rather this conversation be private, then says, “Have you - done that before?”

“Confessed my gay love? Once. Kissed you? No. I would’ve done it sooner if I knew it’d get that reaction, baby. We could’ve put the IT hunt on hold and spent your last hours knocking boots in a backseat.”

Eddie’s face does a complicated twist, annoyance-sorrow-fondness that Richie has gotten used to since the loop started.

“I won’t remember this,” Eddie says, like a question.

Richie shakes his head. “Not a wink, compadre.”

Eddie swallows. “When you find a way out of the loop,” he says, “You should - I don't know if I'll react... well to it, but maybe you should say all the things you just said.”

“What, we should fuck in a car?”

Eddie laughs. It's strained. “You are the most annoying person I’ve ever met. I couldn’t remember you after our teenage years but I swear you still managed to give me stress lines.”

“Pshh. You love me.” He regrets it as soon as it’s out - sarcasm is one thing, but saying it after just confessing your actual love is another.

Eddie’s face smooths out. He makes a noise like he's going to say something, then doesn't. He pockets the daisy chain.

He says, “Let’s - go kill the clown, I guess.”

“Fuck yeah,” Richie says. “Hit me baby one more time.”

 

 

 

 

 

The thing is, Richie’s tried to sacrifice himself for Eddie before. He’s just never managed it - he’s always too far away or IT’s too fast. He always arrives a second too late.

This time, however, Richie’s done this so many times before that he knows what to watch out for. He watches as IT rears up, a millisecond of preparation, and Richie’s already throwing himself in front of Eddie before the arm starts moving towards them.

Once it does, it happens very fast: Richie shoves in front of Eddie, facing him, and he has enough time to panic that the spike will skewer them both before pain explodes in his back and chest, enough to force the air out of his lungs.

In front of him, Eddie’s face is horrified. 

Richie looks down. There’s the spike protruding from his chest, and it’s not - it’s not piercing Eddie .

Richie tries to say now all you have to do is stay alive ‘til the others kill IT , but the pain overwhelms him. He’s vaguely aware of the spike yanking out of his body, his knees hitting the stone below him, but it’s easier to focus on what’s in front of him, which is Eddie.

Eddie’s yelling. His name, mostly, but also stuff about staying awake and whether or not he can stand. He says please a lot, which is nice.

Richie lets himself be dragged into a corner and propped up against the wall. It’s familiar, if the roles were reversed. Richie thinks this was how Eddie died the very first time.

“Huh,” Richie says, when his ears have stopped ringing. “Maybe this’ll - work.”

“Like fuck it will,” Eddie says. He’s crying, tears streaming down his cheeks, and he wipes them away with the hand that’s not helping Richie from keeping upright. “God, Rich-”

“Hey,” Richie says, because Eddie’s upset and that’s never okay. “It’s fine - it’s - better me than you.”

“Go fuck yourself with a rain gutter,” Eddie says, and it’s punctured with sobs.

Richie laughs. It aches.

“Dying’s never-” he has to stop to cough. Blood comes out, but it’s - it’s whatever. “‘S never hurt before. But it was always instant, before. I guess-”

He tilts sideways, still coughing, and Eddie steadies him and bundles a jacket against the wound.

“You’re alright,” Eddie says. “You’re - hey, you’re fine . Okay? You’re fine, we’re gonna get you outta here -”

Behind Eddie’s shoulder, Richie watches the others come for Eddie and pull at him.

“Y’gotta,” Richie says. “Gotta go kill IT. ‘S easy once you get the hang of it. Go crush its fucking heart…”

“Fuck you,” Eddie says. He shoves the others off. “You’re-”

“I’ll be here when you get back,” Richie says. “‘M fine. Go.”

Eddie kisses his forehead. Probably. Richie is fading in and out at that point. If Eddie does kiss his forehead, it’s a nice kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

IT dies. Richie grins as he listens. This is the one thing that never gets old.

“Fuck you,” Richie whispers as IT’s last scream fades. He can picture it, even though his view of it is blocked by a giant spike: the heart disintegrating upwards, turning into motes of light and then vanishing.

Kill that fucking clown, Richie thinks. He might say it.

Not long after, the others appear in front of him. Someone’s touching his face again - Eddie. Holding his face up, so he’s not slumping. 

“Gotta go now,” Richie says. “Whole thing’s gonna… fall on top of you.”

“We’ll carry you,” Eddie says. His face is all determination. Richie wishes he could raise his arms enough to pinch his cheeks, like when they were kids. 

He wishes -

God , Richie thinks. I hope this is the end. No more loops. Just…

“Can’t,” Richie says. “‘M done anyway. Go.”

“You are not done,” Eddie says. “Hey, don’t - you hear me? Hey! We’re gonna- guys, come ON-”

Richie mumbles some more, not really aware of what he’s saying, as he feels himself being lifted. The place is really coming down around them, rocks falling and shattering, and Richie hopes distantly that no one’s gonna get caught by one. He’s watched each of them get crushed at this point.

He’s not that aware of what happens next. He cries out in pain when someone angles him over their shoulder, and someone apologizes. Rocks keep shattering around them.

He knows he’s being carried, but not much else. He doesn’t know who’s carrying him, but it has to be Ben, right, no one else has abs like him. He tries to keep his eyes open, but it’s hard. He catches flashes of his friends around him and every time he thinks cool, they’re still alive.

At one point he realizes there's a rope around his torso and he’s being pulled up the hole that separates the house from the sewers. He waits for the rope to fail, for him to get dropped, for the sudden rush of air, but nothing happens - then hands grab at him and suddenly someone’s carrying him again. 

Everything’s still falling apart, but it’s distant now. Richie waits for more sounds of things being crushed but they stop and after a few seconds Richie realizes that the thing touching his face is sunlight.

They made it out of the house. Huh.

It’s definitely Ben carrying him. Richie can hear the guy’s worried assurances in his ear, and the others are saying shit, too, every once in a while they’ll say his name or to hold on.

Richie’s pretty sure he’s being loaded into a car. He’s very sure when someone clicks the seatbelt around him.

“Safety f’rst,” Richie says.

Eddie laughs. It’s wrecked. “82% of traffic accidents,” he starts, and then stops.

“Keep goin',” Richie says. “Wanna hear.”

Eddie tells him. His voice is shaking and so is the car. They’re driving, Richie’s definitely bleeding on the seats of what he’s pretty sure is Bill’s rental car that they drove here. Whatever. He'll be re-set soon. If not, he'll pay for it when he - when he -

Shit , Richie thinks. What if he’s actually dying-dying, for real?

The concern is very distant. Still - there’s stuff he wanted to say. Things he wanted to do.

“Hey,” he says.

Eddie pauses his tirade of you’re okay you’re fine and says, “What?”

“‘M not afraid of clowns.”

“Okay.”

“Nev’r told you guys.”

“That’s okay, Richie.”

“We were goin’ around sayin’ what we were afraid of… I said clowns, but that wasn’t... it.”

“What were you afraid of, Richie?”

“Think it’s pretty… obv… obvious. ‘S really cliche n’ dramatic.”

“Just like you, then.”

Richie tries to smile. It’s hard.

“I forgot ‘bout it, but I remember… now. ‘M gay,” he says. He concentrates hard on it. He’s said it, kind of, but never like this. Never said I’m gay , just like that. He wishes he could have said it under better circumstances. He wishes he could’ve said other things, too, some Eddie-related things, but he’s pretty sure that’s beyond him now.

Eddie’s saying something, but it’s distant. What is he saying?

Look at me, asshole. Richie, look at me. Look -

Richie doesn’t smile, but he wants to. He would if he could. It makes him remember when he’d said it, when Pennywise was advancing on them a million years ago, back in the house that just crumbled. Eddie’s arm had been broken and he was screaming and the clown had been coming towards them and Richie remembers feeling, for the first but by no means the last time in his life, that he was probably going to die.

He remembers grabbing Eddie’s face, turning it towards him. Thinking that he needed to comfort Eddie, and a smaller, selfish part of him thinking that if he was gonna die he wanted to die looking into Eddie’s face. 

He remembers saying Hey , look at me. Saying Eddie, look at me, don’t look at him, keep your eyes on me, Eddie, look -

“No, don’t close your eyes,” Eddie is saying, but it’s very distant. “Don’t you fucking dare, you little shit, look at me, Richie-”

Richie tries. He really does. He looks up into Eddie’s face and feels weirdly content for the first time in a long time, and then the dark pulls him under with Eddie’s voice echoing all the way down.

 

 

 

 

 

Richie wakes up.

He’s lying down.

That alone is enough to make him almost start to cry, but he holds it in. His head is very fuzzy. He looks around.

Hunched in a plastic seat next to him is Eddie fucking Kaspbrak, his clothes crumpled, his head crunched in what looks like a very uncomfortable position. He’s snoring quietly.

Richie does cry then, just a little. Then he wipes his face and keeps looking around - there are other chairs, obviously pulled out around Richie’s bed, but Eddie’s is the only one that’s occupied.

Richie tries to speak, but his mouth is too dry. He swallows a few times and tries again. 

It comes out croaky: “What’s a guy like you doing in a joint like this?”

Eddie’s eyes come open slowly, his face creased like he’s pissed off at whatever woke him up. Then he registers Richie and his eyes go wide.

“Richie,” Eddie gasps. He bolts out of his chair and comes over.

“How long was I out,” Richie says, instead of grabbing him by the lapel and shaking him and screaming what day is it like he wants to.

“Two days,” Eddie says, and Richie starts crying again. “Hey, hey-”

“I’m fine,” Richie says. He wipes his face again. “Fuck. Okay - so it’s. It’s not-”

“It’s not,” Eddie agrees. He grabs Richie’s hand and squeezes. “You made it out of the loop, Tozier, you sneaky shit.”

“Cool,” Richie says. It’s shakier than he would’ve liked. “Might need a few more days of waking up to cement that - or maybe, like, a month. Couple months. Who knows? Nose knows.”

“You’re on painkillers, by the way.”

“Do you like pina cola-das,” Richie sings. “And gettin’ caught in the rain.”

“Okay.”

“Wowza,” Richie says. “Good stuff. Shit, this is embarrassing.”

“What is?”

Richie snorts, loud and dramatic. “My painkiller induced singing. What do you think, Eddie Spaghetti? I didn’t exactly plan on you remembering… all the stuff that I did. And said. And - did . Lots of doing.”

“Lots,” Eddie echoes. His eyes are very soft and very relieved. “Sure. Hey, who fucking forgets they’re gay?”

Richie throws up his hands the best he can without dislodging his IV. “Guys who got their teenage years erased by a Lovecraftian clown from outer space, that’s who!”

“I guess I’ll give you that one,” Eddie says. He pauses. Looks down at their joined hands.

Richie follows suit. Eddie runs his thumb along the back of his hand, like an afterthought, and Richie remembers how Eddie had run that thumb over Richie’s cheek. 

“Hey,” Eddie starts.

The door opens and the other Losers pour in, relaxed and then less so when they see that Riche’s awake. Beverly lets out a joyful yell and rushes towards him with enough enthusiasm that Eddie actually stands in front of her and says, “Hey, he’s got a gaping chest wound, be careful-

“I’ll hug him light as a butterfly, Kapsbrak, don’t worry,” Bev says, and gives Richie the world’s gentlest hug when Eddie deems to move out of the way. After that is Ben and Bill and Mike, all of whom give him equally gentle hugs and some not-so-gentle shoulder pats on the left shoulder, which was the one furthest away from the chest wound.

“You guys stuck around,” Richie says when they’re all standing around his bed.

“‘Course we did,” Ben says. “You’re a Loser. We stick together.”

“I did hear that,” Richie says. “Hey, guess what? Time loop might be over.”

Mike says, “Might?”

“I’m not settling in yet,” Richie says. “That’s when they get you, time loops. Gotta be on your toes.”

The others trade significant looks that Richie is too tired to translate at this point. Actually, he’s pretty tired in general.

“Hey,” he says. “I might go back to sleep, but do you guys mind - I mean, could you - nevermind.”

“We’ll be here when you wake up,” Bill says. He puts a hand on the closest thing that he can touch, which is Richie’s foot. Richie takes Bill’s index finger between his toes.

“Ew,” Bill says, but he’s smiling. “R-richie.”

“You touched my foot,” Richie says. He might slur it a little. He’s really tired. “‘S what you get.”

He keeps his eyes open as long as he can, taking them all in. His sleep is dreamless.

 

 

 

 

 

The Losers stick around for the whole of Richie’s hospital stay, which is nice. Richie can tell they all have stuff to get onto, all of them buzzing after their second We-Killed-An-Otherwordly-Entity experience of their lives.

Richie’s not so much buzzing as he is trying not to think about things. He’s more or less convinced that the time loop is stopped after the first week, though he expects it’s not going to be that much of an easy fix. He’s almost looking forward to the forgetting. Though they’re not sure it’ll happen this time - Bill has to fly away early, some emergency movie thing, and after a week he can still remember them all perfectly. It’s a lot more than they had last time, where it took two days out of Derry to start forgetting each other’s names.

“Maybe we’ll be able to keep each other this time,” Mike says one day when they’re all eating vending machine food around Richie’s hospital bed.

It’s a really fucking nice way to put it, and Richie wishes he didn’t care about it so much. 

Maybe they will get to keep each other this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie doesn’t bring up the whole Richie-was-or-is-in-love-with-me thing, so Richie definitely isn’t going to. That kind of thing, he figures, is left to the love-ee, not the love-er.

That thought gives him a sliver of memory: Eddie’s arm in a cast, the red slash of lipstick. 

Lover -

“Hey,” Richie asks on the day he’s set to leave the hospital. “When we were kids, did you have an arm cast and write Lover on it?”

“A girl wrote Loser on it,” Eddie says. “Bev changed the S to a V.”

Richie blinked. How did he forget that? Now that he remembered, it felt as solid as the ground under his feet.

“Right,” he says. He’d eyed the hell out of that cast the whole summer. He’d read Lover on Eddie’s arm and get hit with a longing he never knew what to do with.

He glances over at Eddie.

You should say all the things you just said to me, when you get out of the loop, Eddie had told him.

Not that he needs to. The Eddie that heard those things is the Eddie that’s standing in front of him.

There’s way too much silence in the room, so Richie clears his throat. He thinks about asking so should we fuck in a car , but decides against it.

“How’s your wife? Is she still calling after, uh.”

Eddie sighs. “After I told her I wanted a divorce and she flew here and tried to hustle me out of this room?”

“Yeah. That. She still in Derry?”

“No.” Eddie starts toying with the hospital blinds, shuffling them into precise neatness. “She went home a few days ago. It took some convincing, but I think she really gets that I'm leaving her for good this time.”

“Oh.” Sorry doesn’t seem like the right thing to say. “So where are you headed, if not back home?”

Eddie stops playing with the blinds. 

“Uh,” he says. “I don’t actually know.”

He says it casually, but Richie knows him. He can sense the worry in his voice.

“Well, hey,” he says. “You could come with me. We could be roomies. Your crippling mysophobia could provide me with new standup material.”

Eddie turns to look at him. “You don’t write your own jokes.”

“I’ve been meaning to change that.”

A flicker of a smile goes over Eddie’s face. “Seems like it’s a time for change,” he says. “Mike’s finally gonna get out of Derry. Bill’s got his new book. Ben and Bev are finally together.”

Richie drops his gaze to his bedsheets. They’re rumpled.

“About time,” he says. 

“Yeah,” Eddie says. It comes out hoarse.

He comes forwards and starts stripping Richie’s bed. Richie watches him. He assumes Eddie’s only doing it for something to do.

“You know they have nurses for that,” he says. 

“I know,” Eddie says. He starts folding the bedsheets.

“They’re going in the washing machine,” Richie says.

“I know,” Eddie says, more fast this time, like he actually forgot. He hesitates, then just bundles them up and leaves them on top of the mattress. 

He looks over at Richie. “That thing you said - about me coming with you. Did you mean it?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Don’t mess with me.”

“When have I ever-” Richie raises his hands in surrender when Eddie pins him with a look. “Oookay, we don’t need to go into that. I’m not messing with you, it was a genuine offer.”

Eddie looks him over, as if trying to sniff out a lie. Then he says, “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll - if the offer’s genuine, then sure.”

Eddie stands there for a moment, just looking at him with those big fucking eyes. Goddamn those eyes. When Richie had come back to Derry and walked in that restaurant it was Eddie’s eyes he’d zoned in on while a chant of ohhh fuck started up in his head, old feelings started to punch their way to the surface.

Eddie drops his gaze and Richie tries not to feel too relieved.

“You’ll need someone to change the bandages, anyway.”

“Yup,” Richie says. “So many bandages. Can’t reach around to the back ones on my own. So we’re actually doing this? Because I remember saying something about college dorms when we were kids and you said you’d make it a week before smothering me with a pillow.”

Eddie snorts. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“What a week, though.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, and looks up at Richie again. This one is fleeting, like he’s afraid of looking at him for too long. Eddie had had this thing when they were kids about looking into the sun, afraid he’d get blinded. This reminds Richie of that.

“I don’t...” Eddie blows out a thin breath. “I don’t want to… rush into anything. Or - a lot’s happened, I mean. And apparently we’re gonna live together. But I finally… I finally got you back. And we’ve wasted so much time when we could’ve been…”

He trails off, glancing up at Richie again. He glances a few times, but Richie’s stuck. He wants badly to come up with some shitty joke and break the tension, but his brain’s back on the ohhh fuck train. We’ve wasted so much time when we could’ve been - what?

Eddie says, “Come on, say something.”

“Say what? What should I be saying?”

Eddie’s hands are in the pockets of his jackets, so his jacket moves when he gestures.

“Something, I don’t know! A - a confirm or a deny. Some kind of answer.”

“I’ll answer when you ask an actual question!”

Eddie’s mouth opens, then closes. His throat clicks.

Richie is suddenly more terrified than he’s ever been in his life, and that’s saying something. When Eddie starts towards him, he flinches, just a little. Eddie seems to catch it and slows up, but still comes closer, until they’re sharing breathing space. He meets Richie’s eyes, steadier this time, and Richie is torn between the want to look away and the need to stare into those fucking soulful eyes.

Eddie goes to say something, then stops. He leans up and presses their mouths together.

It’s not a great kiss. Eddie is hesitant and Richie is shaking, which he only realizes once he meets a firm surface in the form of Eddie.

When Eddie doesn’t pull away immediately, Richie might make a noise into his mouth. He reaches up to take his face, which sets off all kinds of memories of things that didn’t technically happen - Eddie dying the first time, the fourth time, the forty-sixth - 

“You okay,” Eddie says when he pulls back. His ridiculous eyebrows furrow.

“Yeah,” Richie says, and it’s nowhere near stable. “Yep. I’m - yeah.”

“Are you crying ?”

Richie starts shaking his head but Eddie’s already catching him out on it, wiping his fingers over Richie’s cheek and coming away wet.

Still, Richie tries. “What? No. Fuck off. You’re crying.”

“I think it’s you,” Eddie says. He looks panicky, but he’s also not moving away. When Richie lets their foreheads thunk together, he keeps not moving away.

“I keep expecting to wake up and be standing in front of that house again,” Richie says. “Knowing I’m gonna have to watch you die for the millionth time.”

Eddie’s eyes aren’t all dry when he says, “I’m not gonna die, Rich. I’m staying right here. With - with you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Richie takes his hand, lifts it up. “Blood oath?”

Jesus .”

“It’s a hospital! Everything’s sterilized.”

Eddie blinks at him, and Richie waits to be told to fuck off. But Eddie says, “Alright.”

“What, really?”

“Sure. What, why the look-”

Richie boggles. “We’re not actually doing that-”

“I thought you wanted a gesture!”

“Yeah, but I was joking-”

“I can’t believe I ever forgot how annoying you are,” Eddie says, and it’s all the usual fire that Richie missed being on the other and on, and then it softens. “I can’t believe I ever forgot you. You - I love all you guys, but you’re - you’re in my soul.”

Richie’s throat tightens even further.

“That’s the corniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he says thickly. “That was terrible.”

“You’re crying again.”

Terrible .”

“Okay, Richie.”

Eddie leans their foreheads together again. They stay like that until Richie stops shaking.

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Richie wakes up, he’s on a plane. Eddie is in the seat next to him, but his head is on Richie’s shoulder. He’s snoring, and Richie watches him for a long time before turning to look out the window. Eddie had given him the window seat, but only after arguing the whole way through the airport. Richie had never realized how much he’d missed arguing with him until he got to do it again. He’s really looking forward to all the arguments they’re gonna have when they’re living together. They’re bound to have some doozies.

Outside the window, the sun is rising. It’s another day.

Richie tells himself this about twelve times, then leans his head sideways so it’s resting on Eddie’s. Eddie grumbles in his sleep and Richie feels himself grin. In a few hours they’ll be in Beverly Hills, then after that they’ll be in Richie’s house, which isn’t just Richie’s anymore, and Eddie’s gonna say something every half hour about the bacteria in kitchen sponges or how Richie can’t stack the forks upwards in the dishwasher, in case one of them falls and skewers themselves.

Richie can't fucking wait.

He rubs his cheek against Eddie's hair to get another grumble out of him. It works.

Richie grins again and closes his eyes.