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i.

Eddie hadn’t known what to expect when he walked into the restaurant. Mike’s phone call and his own subsequent return to Derry has cracked the foundation on which he’s built his entire adult life, and Eddie has felt like he’s been teetering ever since.

It was an odd thing, to come to the realization that there was a whole swath of your own life that was kept locked away from yourself, hazy and dormant in the back of your mind. The truth of it was that he hadn’t realized he’d forgotten any of it. On the drive up from Boston he’d wracked his brain, tried to remember a time when he’d talked to someone—anyone—about his childhood in any meaningful way. He came up short. It was like his past just hadn’t seemed worth thinking about at the time. And so he hadn’t. 

But now the memories were beginning to push through, slowly finding their way back into his consciousness. All those repressed—no, not repressed, forgotten—memories of his childhood crowding forward in his mind, scene by horrifying scene. It was the sensation of watching rainfall just starting to collect in a storm drain under a dark sky, knowing a flood was on the way.

Seeing Mike and Bill, huddled together toward the back of the room, had been a shock for the familiarity of it. A staggering reminder that he is one part of a whole. Oh, right, he thinks dimly. You love these people.  

There’s a reason he’d come back to this place—six reasons, actually, and two of them are standing right in front of him. 

He stumbles toward them and Mike says his name happily, wraps him in a huge, warm hug that makes Eddie want to cry, stupidly. And then he looks over Mike’s shoulder, and his eyes find Bill’s, and his heart is still thudding loudly in chest, but Eddie feels steady in a way he hasn’t since he’d gotten Mike’s phone call. He looks at Bill, his first friend ever, and somehow he begins to feel grounded.

Bill pulls him into a hug and a “Holy shit” tumbles out of his mouth with a laugh.

They part with twin smiles etched across their faces, and Mike is saying something then, and Eddie’s getting used to it again, getting used to them again, when-

A deep, reverberating ring fills the room.

“This meeting of the Losers Club has officially begun.”

Eddie has never known himself to be the sentimental type—well, hasn’t known himself to be so prior to the previous evening, at least. He’s found there’s actually quite a few things about himself he hadn’t previously known to be true. But no, nostalgia has never been an emotion he’s felt particularly prone to, nor has the ringing of the (what he’s sure is a decorative) gong done anything to help the headache that’s been building since he crossed the Derry city limits last night. But he hears Richie Tozier’s voice and he turns to find him standing there, older than he’s ever known him but still so much the same, and all at once Eddie feels like he needs a pull on his inhaler because all the breath in his body has left him in one fell swoop.

He can’t breathe

Until now, Eddie’s memories of Richie have been blurry. Until yesterday they’d been non-existent, but even since then Eddie’s been careful to keep them at bay, studiously ignoring the pull of that particular string of curiosity. Like he knew those memories were scary in a way that was very different than the images of lepers and winding sewer tunnels that had begun to creep into his mind.

Richie is standing in front of him now though, and it feels like all the memories (all the feelings) he’s quietly kept pushed aside have rushed forward, clamoring to assert themselves in the forefront of his mind, demanding to be acknowledged.

Eddie is frozen to the spot. If someone else is talking, he can’t hear it for the dizzying rush of static in his ears. His heart is pounding so hard in his chest that he swears the others must be able to see it.

Then Mike and Bill step forward, hurry to embrace Ben and Bev who look so different and so much the same all at once, and Eddie has found that he’s stumbled forward too, and all of a sudden Richie is right in front of him.

Richie looks… Richie looks different. 

He’s lost the coke bottle glasses in favor of thick frames that better fit his face, and he’s grown into his features a bit (just like Bev had said, a dim thought in the back of Eddie’s mind registers); teeth straighter, smile still stretched wide but more proportionately so. There’s some gray peppered in his hair, Eddie can see, and his eyes look different too—not magnified the way he’s used to seeing them, but also sadder somehow, despite the smile on his face. He looks so old, Eddie thinks, when did we all get so old-

But there’s laugh lines too, well worn around his mouth and crinkled at his eyes. Richie looks like he still laughs a lot. Eddie surprises himself at how happy the thought makes him.

“Spaghetti Man!” Richie greets him, delighted, and pulls him into a tight hug. Eddie says “Don’t fucking call me that, Trashmouth,” like he knows he’s supposed to and grins stupidly into Richie’s shoulder.

They separate, and Eddie looks up at Richie, and for a moment his mind stutters backward, all the way back. There’s an overwhelming dissonance in his head that threatens his balance, makes him sway. And he’s glad for the hands that are still gripping Richie’s arms, glad for the anchor. Because he looks at the man in front of him, looks at Richie, and sees a young boy with curly hair and ridiculous glasses and a smile so wide that he can’t help, could never help, but smile back. He looks at Richie and sees that boy, and for the first time since he’s been here he feels like maybe this is a kind of homecoming after all.

 

ii.

Eddie’s fist is raised at the door in front of him, but he can’t bring himself to do anything with it.

Come on, Eds, don’t be a coward, he goads himself. He registers the nickname, grimaces, rolls his eyes, and brings his fist down on the door. Two sharp knocks.

He reels back onto his heels and shoves both hands into the pockets of his pajama pants.

Seconds tick by. 

And you know what, that’s fine. That’s good, he thinks. Clearly Richie is sleeping and he hasn’t heard me, so I can just fuck off back to my room and-

Eddie hears movement behind the door. His eyes dart to the side. He contemplates bolting, making a run for it down the hall, his room isn’t that far away. But, no, no, that’s dumb, don’t be stupid-

The door swings open.

Richie stands at the other side of it wearing a t-shirt and boxers and nothing else. When he sees that it’s Eddie, he smirks and raises his arm up against the doorframe, leans against it with his hip cocked exaggeratedly. He smiles lecherously down at Eddie.

“Well, well, Eddie, my dear. To what do I owe the plea-”

“Move over, asshole.”

Eddie bats him away and ducks under his arm, marching into the room without being asked.

His eyes scan the room nervously, and it’s tidier than he would have thought, though he supposes they had only been there for a day. He does see the evidence of Richie breaking into the minibar; empty bottles of nips, a single dirty glass. He doesn’t mention it.

When he turns around, Richie is watching him with a small smile. There it is again, Eddie thinks. Something sad sitting right around his eyes.

Eddie tries to think of something to say, feels like there’s a million things he wants to and also none at all. Before he has the chance to land on one, Richie does it for him.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Eddie lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Richie crosses in front of him and Eddie turns with him, eyes tracking him across the room.

“Yeah. Something like that.”

Richie bends over next to the minifridge and from beside it pulls out a bottle of what looks like bourbon stolen from the bar downstairs. He holds it up in Eddie’s direction. “Drink?” he asks, pulling out another clean glass.

“Yes. Thank you,” Eddie says quickly, even as Richie’s already pouring it for him.

Eddie knows they probably shouldn’t; they need to keep their wits about them, or something. But they’d drank so much at dinner, and he hardly feels a thing. Richie hands him the glass, and their fingers brush gently. Eddie feels a spark travel up his back and wants to scream.

Instead, he downs the drink in one. His teeth grit against the taste.

“Woah, bud,” Richie watches him warily. “Slow down there, we got all night.” But he follows Eddie’s lead anyway, draining his glass.

“Bite me,” Eddie tells him and refills their glasses. He just takes a sip this time and sits down heavily on the edge of Richie’s bed.

Richie doesn’t move. He looks unsure of what to do with himself, shoulders slightly hunched. As if he was the one who stormed in here with some emotion he couldn’t name and no plan at all.

“Can you sit down, man?” Eddie asks, not quite meeting his eyes. “You’re making me nervous.”

“You? Nervous?” Richie quips dryly. He still waits a beat though, then sits down next to Eddie. The bed is pretty wide, but their shoulders brush where they’re sitting. Eddie wonders if Richie did that on purpose. And then he wonders how many times he’d asked himself that question while they were growing up.

Eddie’s foot starts tapping in earnest, a tick he’d never grown out of. He bites out, “I can’t believe we’re back here.”

Richie huffs, takes another drink. “Yeah, no shit,” he agrees.

Eddie watches him, tries to relax his face where he knows it’s twisted with worry. “How much do you remember?”

Richie turns to face him, uncharacteristically quiet. He looks at Eddie like he’s not really seeing him. “I don’t know,” he says, softly. “A lot, I think.” His eyes refocus on Eddie, blinking. “But it feels like there’s a lot I still haven’t gotten to yet, too.”

Eddie nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, me too.”

“I remember…” Richie starts. He’s looking somewhere over Eddie’s left shoulder, not really looking at anything, and a grin creeps up on his face. “I remember going to the movies, once. The Aladdin, right?”

Eddie hums, watching him.

“We were seeing some… monster movie, I don’t know. I used to love dragging you to those, do you remember? You’d get so scared, you’d be clutching my arm the whole time and whispering a mile a minute in my ear.” Richie pitches his voice up an octave, whines, “‘Oh no, Rich, what’s she gonna do- Oh, don’t go in there, oh no! ’ God, you were annoying,” he says, laughing.

“Dick,” Eddie tells him, but he’s grinning too.

“Hm, so anyway, this one time we were there, it was, like, a werewolf flick, I think? I don’t know, but we were sitting on the balcony, and the movie had barely started, man, but it made you jump.” Richie grins. “And you kicked our full fucking bucket of popcorn down over the ledge onto Bowers and all them, sitting right below us. Do you remember that?”

“Oh, my God,” Eddie says, smiling in full now. He runs a hand through his hair. “As if those shitty movies weren’t bad enough.” He rests his elbows on his knees, one hand still holding his glass, the other propping up his chin where he’s hunched over, looking up at Richie on his right. “And then you…” He pauses, collects his thoughts. Remembering, “You poured your drink on them, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did,” Richie laughs, eyes bright as he looks down at Eddie. “Bowers looked like he wanted to eat you alive, I had to distract him somehow.” Eddie’s chest clenches briefly.

The memory comes flooding back in bright technicolor. 

Eddie spilled the popcorn, and he and Richie had just stared at each other for a second before a smile began to crack across Richie’s face. Infectious, Eddie began to smile too, a laugh bubbling up in his throat, before they slowly looked over the banister and saw Bowers and his friends glaring up at them from the floor below. 

Eddie had felt all the blood rush from his face, his stomach dropping. A monster roared on the screen behind while Bowers yelled up at him, “I’m gonna fucking kill you, kid!” 

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a shower of dark, sticky soda rained down on Bowers from above. Eddie closed his eyes slowly, hardly daring to breathe, and turned back to Richie. He opened his eyes to find Richie leaning over the balcony, empty cup crushed in one hand and giving Bowers the finger with the other. 

He had turned back to Eddie then, toothy grin plastered freely across his face. Then he glanced back down below him, where Bowers and his friends were falling over each other in their rush to get out of their row. “Oh fuck,” Richie whispered and grabbed Eddie’s hand, dragging him out of his seat and into the aisle.

They emerged onto the upstairs landing. Eddie’s breaths had started coming out wheezy. He felt the asthma attack growing in his chest, but shoved it down as best he could. Richie dragged him away from the main staircase and over to a door marked Emergency Exit.

“Richie, the alarm,” Eddie hissed at him. 

“It’s busted,” Richie said, shouldering it open. They slipped inside and pushed the door closed behind them, ears pressed up against it to try to hear what was going on on the other side. Sure enough, a few moments later they heard the clamor of Bowers and his friends on the landing. Eddie hoped desperately that they wouldn’t notice the door tucked away in the shadows.

“Where the fuck are those fairies?”

Eddie jumped as they heard the door to the theater slam open, followed by jeers and complaints from the moviegoers inside. Richie started to giggle next to him, and Eddie slapped his free hand across his mouth.

“Oh, fuck off!” Hockstetter, Eddie thought.

“Come on, let’s check the bathrooms.” Huggins.

Their footsteps echoed away, and Eddie let out a gigantic breath. Richie licked Eddie’s hand where it was still held over his mouth.

“Oh gross, Rich,” Eddie complained, but let himself be dragged away again. They hightailed it down the stairs and out into the bright light of day on the landing below. They had come out into the side alley of the theater, empty save for a few dumpsters and a bird pecking at the sidewalk.

Richie had finally seemed to notice that he was still holding Eddie’s hand and dropped it quickly. He looked up at Eddie, blinking at him owlishly behind his huge glasses.

They stared at each other for one second, then two. And then all at once they were both cracking up, not bothering to temper their shouted laughter.

“Did you see the look on his fucking face,” Richie gasped with glee, clutching his sides.

“I can’t- believe- you did that,” Eddie wheezed, bent almost double, grinning up at Richie.

“Anything for you, Eds.”

For once Eddie let it slide.

Then they heard the creaking of the main doors to the theater, opening on the other side of the building. They froze, looking at each other, eyes wide. And then they ran, tripping over their own feet, down the alley around back to the other side of the theater.

They ran all the way back home.

Eddie shakes his head slightly, returning to the present. “I still can’t believe you did that,” he says against his knuckles. If his voice sounds shaky, Richie doesn’t mention it. 

He sits up straight again, hand falling into his lap. He turns toward Richie, eyes wide. “I really thought we were gonna die that day,” he tells him.

Richie’s answering smile splits wide across his face, and then he’s laughing, loud and unselfconscious, and Eddie can’t help but start to laugh too.

And how strange it is, to be back here in this place, in this town, laughing with his best friend at the dumb look on some asshole’s face. Because Richie is his best friend. Still. Somehow. Eddie doesn’t know if any amount of years will ever change that. He hopes not.

Eddie takes another sip of his drink, trying to calm the small hiccups of laughter still escaping his mouth. Richie finishes his own in one smooth gulp, and sets the empty glass aside. He pushes his glasses up on his head, still grinning as he runs a hand down his face. It’s a gesture so familiar that Eddie feels like he’s being ported back in time, again. That dissonance returns, making him dizzy. Or maybe it’s the drink. Either way, Eddie feels queasy. 

This entire night, he’s felt at odds with himself, falling back happily into memories of laughter, of his friends. But there’s been something darker there too, something dank and rotting. Tinging the edges of those memories, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. He had looked at his friends around the table and saw, simultaneously, them as they were and them as they are now. Caring, laughing. 

Scared.

He saw Stan’s empty seat and felt that too.

“You think we’re gonna die here?” he asks Richie. “Probably, right?”

Richie looks at him, concern plain on his face. Richie has always, always been so easy to read. His words acted as a decoy, a herring. Jokes and barbs always meant to deflect, distract. His face betrayed him though, every time. His feelings play across in real time. Richie has always been an open book.

“Eds, your hands are shaking.”

Eddie looks down, sees that it’s true. He puts his unfinished drink on the bedside table.

Eddie puts his hands on his knees and squeezes tight. Then he stands.

“I, uh, I’ll get out of your hair,” he says, looking at Richie and then away again nervously. “We should probably, like, get some sleep tonight, right? Big day tomorrow and all...” He laughs, but it sounds wrong.

He stands there for a moment, and when Richie doesn’t say anything he huffs a quick “yeah” under his breath and spins on his heel, walks away.

Richie grabs his wrist just as he’s about to reach the door. He turns, looking up at him. 

All these years, and Richie’s still taller than him, that prick.

“We’re gonna figure it out,” Richie tells him, eyebrows furrowed. “Mike’s got some sort of plan, and we’re gonna figure it out in the morning, okay?”

Eddie looks up at him and realizes he had miscalculated when he’d turned around, they’re really very close. Closer than they need to be. Richie could duck his head down and easily-

“We’re in this together, right?”

Richie smiles at him so kindly, and Eddie knows he’d be a fool to believe it, but he wants so badly to just trust that they’re going to be okay.

Richie’s fingers slide down from the loose grip he’d had around Eddie’s wrist to grab his hand. Eddie’s breath catches.

They’re definitely too close.

Richie squeezes his hand, once, and then lets go.

He takes a step backward, and Eddie tries to not feel disappointed.

He smiles at Richie, hopes it conveys… something, and turns again. The door clicks softly closed behind him, and he retreats back to his own room, alone.

 

iii.

Eddie watches Richie’s head disappear down into the dark depths of the well in the basement of the house on Neibolt Street and wants to be sick.

He wishes he could say that he can’t believe the depths of his own cowardice, can’t believe he’d almost let that thing- almost let It eat Richie’s face, but it’s always been true, hasn’t it? He’s always been too delicate, too weak, too-

Too scared.

You’ve been brave, before, a voice whispers traitorously in his head. Gazebos, remember?

A laugh, manic and misplaced, erupts from his mouth. Mike looks over at him oddly. Eddie just grimaces at him, feeling crazy. He takes the rope Mike offers him and tugs on it to test his weight, to be sure.

Now is not the time , he argues with himself, gripping the rope tightly and beginning to shimmy down into the well. It’s much easier with the full use of both his arms. Now is not the time to indulge in some stupid fantasy of imagined courage, he chides himself. Hadn’t Myra made sure he’d known, and hadn’t his mother told him before that, how dangerous it was to delude himself into thinking that he could be something he’s not. He is not strong, and he is not brave, and he’s going to get them all killed if he tries to pretend otherwise. He-

A hand thrusts itself out of the hole to his right. Eddie shrieks.

Richie’s face pushes forward into the beam of light from Eddie’s headlamp, and Eddie feels his heart start back up again. “Oh, my God,” he breathes, eyes closed, chest heaving.

“Dude, it’s just me. You gotta fucking chill, man.”

Richie grips his arm and pulls him into the tunnel. Eddie lets loose of the rope.

“I’m totally chill,” he says, breathy and voice only slightly higher than usual, probably. “I’m totally-”

Richie flicks gray water in his face.

“Richie, you are such a fucking asshole,” he pushes past Richie, ignoring the cackles that follow him as he crawls down and out of the tunnel to join Bill and Bev in the chamber at the other end. They both grin at him, amused.

They’re bad fucking friends.

He wipes frantically at his face with his sleeve, grumbling all the while, and he almost forgets to be scared.

Almost.

The sewer is as horrible as he (sort of) remembers. The air down here is damp and cold, grime coats every visible surface, and nameless gunk drips from the walls. The stench is the worst of it. It’s everywhere. Eddie feels like it’s seeping into his skin.

Stan would’ve hated it here, Eddie thinks. Stan did hate it here. Hated it so much that he’d-

Eddie sucks in a rattling breath and his hands automatically pat down his sides, finding the familiar presence of the aspirator in his pocket.

Not so familiar, not recently, Eddie’s thoughts whisper. He hadn’t used the thing regularly in years, had finally somehow learned to cope without it. He feels better having it with him now though. Shame blossoms in his chest at the thought.

Now that’s familiar.

Ben and Mike and Richie join them in the chamber, and they all stand silent for a moment in a loose circle, looking at each other grimly. Eddie wonders if they’re all as scared as he is, thinks they must be and they can’t be in equal measure.

Then Bill takes a breath, nods once and says lightly, “Let’s go.”

Richie squeezes Eddie’s shoulder tightly as he passes him, offers a small smile. 

You don’t deserve him, something whispers at the back of Eddie’s mind. He shakes his head slightly. 

Not that it matters. He doesn’t have him, anyway.

“It’s this way,” Eddie offers, pointing, when Bill looks back at him.

They follow Bill one-by-one down the dark, slimy tunnel.

 

iv.

Fuck, Richie!” 

But Richie has already darted forward, sprinting out of the tunnel at the sound of Mike’s yells.

Eddie follows after him, sparing glances behind himself all the while, making sure nothing’s following behind. Even in the glow of his headlamp, he feels like the darkness is bound to swallow him whole.

He finally, finally careens out of the tunnel, but is brought up short. The sight he’s met with scares him more than anything he’s seen yet. A choked off sound spills from his lips.

Richie is 20 feet off the ground, arms limp and jaw lax. His eyes burn bright white where he’s caught in the deadlights. A trail of blood drips steadily from his nose, but it doesn’t drip down, it drips up, it- it-

It floats.

Eddie closes his eyes. He’s not fucking doing this again, he’s not letting It get Richie.

You’re braver than you think,’ Richie had said.

That’s not so hard, Eddie thinks lightly. You don’t think you’re brave at all. So, like, it’s all up from here.

And the thing is. The thing is, Eddie is scared. Eddie has always been so fucking scared. But in this moment, he’s more scared for Richie than he is for anything else. 

He repeats Bev’s words to himself.

“This kills monsters if you believe it does.”

And so he grips the fence post tight, feels the rusted iron in his fists and spares a thought for his last tetanus shot. 

“If you believe it does…”

If Richie still dies after all this, he’s gonna kill him.

“If you believe it does…”

He opens his eyes, stares down the monster in front of him.

“If you believe it does.”

Eddie rips the headlamp off his head and charges forward, believing with his whole heart that this will work, has to work, even as it pounds thunderously in his chest.

“BEEP BEEP, MOTHERFUCKER!”

He rears back and then launches the fence post, throws all his weight into it (just like then, just like the fanny pack), and it spins brilliantly in the air before lodging deep into the clown’s throat, straight into the deadlights there.

A terrible retching noise echoes through the cavern as It hacks and spits around the fence post.

Gross, Eddie thinks emphatically.

He shakes himself, and runs over to Richie as Pennywise falls backward into the spires behind It.

“Rich! Ah, Rich,” Eddie falls to his knees at Richie’s side, leaning over him to get a good look at his face. “Hey, Rich! Wake up. Hey...” 

But Richie doesn’t wake up. His eyes still have that horrible glossy film as he stares up at the ceiling, unseeing.

“Richie,” Eddie whispers, shaking him gently. Richie doesn’t move.

Fuck,” Eddie looks around wildly. He thinks he got It, he thinks he killed It. But Richie’s not waking up, and he has to be sure.

He scrambles up to his feet and crouches down behind Richie’s head. He gets his arms wedged tightly under Richie’s armpits and pulls him backward, away from It.

“God, fuck, Richie,” he huffs, dragging him inch by agonizing inch. “How are you so fucking heavy-”

A pincer comes careening down, less than a foot from Richie’s right leg; right where Eddie had been crouched over Richie not a minute before.

“AHHHH!” 

Eddie wonders briefly who’s screaming and then realizes it’s him. 

He clamps his mouth shut and pulls Richie is earnest now. Pennywise drags It’s pincer back along the ground, rocks splintering and flying up around it. It howls an agonizing scream that makes all the blood in Eddie’s body run cold.

But suddenly Mike is next to him, saying “I got him, I got him.” Mike gets an arm under Richie’s right shoulder and Eddie readjusts his grip on his left, and together they pull Richie away even as It’s screams fill the cavern from where It’s struggling to free Itself from the spires. 

There’s an opening in the rockface that dips down into a shallow chamber below. They pull Richie through and down and prop him up at the base of the incline as the others stagger and stumble through the opening behind them.

Eddie kneels beside Richie yet again, leaning over him. He puts both hands on either side of Richie’s face, holding his head up when it threatens to loll to the side.

“Richie?”

“Come out and play, Losers!” The clown laughs maniacally as It pounds and stabs at the rock above them.

Eddie’s eyes feel wet as he stares down at Richie’s face. Richie’s eyes aren’t glowing white anymore, no longer lit up by the deadlights. They’re filmy and dull, and they stare at nothing at all.

The sound of splitting rock echoes all around them, impossibly loud. “Richie, please,” Eddie bites back a sob.

And then: A memory. 

The memory tears its way into the forefront of Eddie’s mind. So crystal clear, so filled with hope that it lights Eddie up from the inside.

“Beverly, please!” 

And then, 

A kiss.

Eddie stares down at Richie and gathers everything he’s ever felt for him; All the laughter and all the concern, all the hoping and the fretting. All the gratitude, and all the annoyance, too. All the love. And all the fear. He gathers it all close to him, holds it tight. 

You’re braver than you think.

He kisses Richie. He kisses him like he’s thought about doing a million times before. Like he's wanted to do since he was thirteen fucking years old.

And then he stops.

He pulls away, and for a heart-stopping moment, nothing happens at all.

And then suddenly Richie gasps. His eyes refocus, fill with a light all his own, and Eddie has never felt more relieved in all his sorry fucking life.

“Wow,” he breaths out, barely above a whisper.

Richie stares up at Eddie in wonder, eyes open and honest the way they always are, and Eddie’s heart clenches so tightly in his chest he feels like he might pass out.

“Jesus, fuck,” Richie finally gasps out, and Eddie can’t help it then, he’s so relieved, he just laughs. Laughs and ducks his head down into the crook of Richie’s shoulder, arms wrapped tightly around him. Richie’s arms come up automatically, wrapping around Eddie in turn, and then a second later all their friends are there too, crowding around them, hands grasping at any point they can touch. Eddie feels so happy he might cry. Might already be crying. It doesn’t matter.

It screams in rage above them. Eddie doesn’t know what makes him think it’s because of the way they’re holding onto each other, but knows immediately that it’s true. 

They disentangle themselves. Eddie leaves a hand on Richie’s chest even as he pulls away.

“You good?”

Richie nods up at him, still breathing heavily. Eddie helps him up, and they both stagger to a stand. 

“I’m good, I’m good,” Richie says, hands still gripping Eddie’s arms. “I’m-”

Richie dry heaves. 

Eddie jumps back, eyes wide.

“No, I’m good, I’m good,” Richie says again, eyes squeezed shut, one hand gripping Eddie’s shoulder as he breathes out shakily.

Eddie watches him nervously, then, “I didn’t think the kiss was that bad...”

“Shut up, you little twerp.”

“Guys!” Ben calls from somewhere to Eddie’s left. “There’s a passageway, through here.”

“Wait-” Richie says, and Eddie tunes in to the conversation around him.

“We can’t just leave,” Bill says.

“We leave, we die, right?” Eddie asks Bev, who just shrugs and nods.

Then Mike, “We have to kill It.”

Bev, helplessly, “How are we gonna do that?”

And then something itches at the back of Eddie’s mind. Another memory. An idea.

“I almost killed It,” he says.

He looks up at the Losers and they all stare back at him.

“The- the leper.”

 

v.

Later, hours later, the group heads back to the Town House. Dripping wet with water from the quarry that Eddie had only complained about a little, they stumble back in an awkward huddle, arms wrapped around each other’s waists and shoulders, and none of them willing to let go.

They had all retreated to their separate rooms to shower properly, Bill offering to let Mike shower in his when Mike had looked reluctant to leave.

And now Eddie stood in the same spot he had just a little over 24 hours earlier, fist raised poised and decidedly still over the wood.

Get it fucking together, Kaspbrak.

He knocks, and this time he can’t stop, just knocks and knocks incessantly until-

“Yes, yes, I get it, I’m coming, Jesus,” the door swings wide.

Richie doesn’t look surprised to see him.

“Spaghetti. We’ve gotta stop meeting like this.”

Eddie elbows him in the stomach as he walks past him.

“Ow! Fuck,” Richie coughs, kicking the door closed behind him. “You really are such a little brat, you know that?”

“I’m not little, dick.”

“Oh yeah?” Richie leers at him, “Prove it.” He winks.

Eddie throws his pillow at his face.

“Alright! Well, not that I don’t love being physically attacked in my own room,” Richie watches as Eddie sits on the bed, same as before, then falls backward, legs hanging off the bed where they’re bent at the knee. “Is there a reason for this visit?”

Eddie drapes his arm over his face, hiding his eyes.

“I need a reason to visit my best friend?” he says. It comes out muffled under his arm.

Eddie feels the mattress dip beside him as Richie sits down and lays back too, side-by-side.

“Aw, Eds. I’m your best friend?”

Eddies eyebrows furrow. “Well, yeah,” his arm falls away from his face and he looks over at Richie, and, oh. There’s that closeness again. “Obviously.”

Eddie swallows. 

“And don’t call me that.”

Eddie could count Richie’s freckles right now if he wanted to.

Richie grins sunnily at him. He leans in even further and says in a conspiratorial whisper, “You’re still my best friend too.”

Eddie’s mouth twists into a small smile which, after a moment, he aims up at the ceiling above them.

They fall into a companionable silence, basking in the glow of their victory for just a few moments longer.

Eddie can’t believe they got so lucky, can’t believe any of them made it out of there alive. Can’t believe all of them did.

Most of them, he corrects himself, and thinks of Stan.

It seems like no small miracle that he and Richie are back in this place, back on this bed, breathing and whole and still very much alive.

They got so, so lucky.

Eddie feels a soft brush against his fingers and flinches violently.

“Gah! Don’t do that, man!”

Richie gapes at him incredulously.

Jesus, you’re twitchy. Sorry! Just trying to hold a guy’s hand, I’ll make sure to announce myself next time.”

Eddie feels his face heating up with a blush.

Next time?” Eddie mutters, pitching his voice, echoing earlier.

Richie gets the joke like he always does, and laughs, surprised and fond. 

“I’m going in again, okay, don’t- freak out, or whatever.”

“Asshole,” Eddie mutters, and Richie gently grabs his hand, entwining their fingers.

And okay, maybe Eddie is freaking out a little bit.

They used to hold hands all the time, when they were younger. Too young for it to mean anything. Too young to mean anything by it. And then they’d gotten older, and were told “don’t” and “not supposed to” and “not with other boys,” and they’d stopped.

And fuck, Eddie had really missed it.

But he had missed everything about Richie. Missed everything without ever really realizing it. He’d spent the better part of the last three decades missing someone he couldn’t even remember. And that really fucking sucks.

Richie squeezes his hand and Eddie looks over at him.

Richie’s hair is still damp from his shower, curling at the nape of his neck. His glasses are cracked, but clean, and he smells like soap and clean clothes and something else, too. Something entirely just Richie.

“You’re thinking too hard over there.”

Eddie is so smitten he could cry.

Eddie’s eyes flicker down to Richie’s lips, and Richie notices, of course he does, he’s watching him so closely. 

Time stands still for a moment.

Then Richie disentangles their fingers so that he can prop himself up on his elbow, and he leans over Eddie. His other hand comes up, slowly, slowly, and holds Eddie’s cheek, gentle where the bandage is.

He pauses, watches Eddie for any sign of dismissal, any sign of rejection.

Eddie doesn’t do anything. Doesn’t even think he’s breathing.

And then Richie leans forward, and his lips brush against Eddie’s softly. Gentler than he’d ever thought Richie could be. 

It’s almost an exact mirror of them as they were in the cavern, the image reversed.

Then Richie presses forward, more insistent this time, and the dam breaks. Eddie gasps into his mouth and arches upward, right hand flying up to tangle in Richie’s hair as the kiss deepens. He’s wanted this for so long, wanted this forever. 

He can’t believe it’s taken them this long.

Eddie’s left hand tangles in the fabric of Richie’s shirt, right above his hip, and pulls him toward him, wanting to get closer, closer. Richie clouds every single one of his senses, and still it’s not enough.

Richie is almost on top of him at this point, hand leaving Eddie’s cheek to brace himself on either side of Eddie’s head. Eddie dimly registers Richie’s leg moving to rest between his own. He’s got both hands on Richie’s face now, and he nips at Richie’s lower lip, smiles at the sound he makes above him. Richie pushes Eddie further into the mattress, and Eddie wants, wants, wants.

Eddie pulls away, hands falling back down limply. “Richie, wait, wait...” He inhales heavily; takes slow, deep breaths. 

Richie watches him silently from above, eyes wide and concerned.

“Richie, I…” 

A thousand ways he can finish that sentence. They all crowd into his head, screaming to be heard at various volumes, demanding to be spoken aloud, all of them. And then one tumbles out, unbidden.

“I’m married.”

It comes out ragged, and it’s not what Eddie meant to say at all, but it’s also true. The ring is wedged tight on his finger.

Richie’s face, always so open, shutters closed against him. Eddie hates himself.

Richie rolls off of him, sits up at the edge of the bed and rests his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. Eddie sits up too and watches him nervously. 

Richie takes one deep breath, and then another. And then a third for good measure.

“Richie, I’m sor-”

“Hey, you kissed me,” he says, sounding bitter and hurt. It doesn’t sound like Richie at all.

Richie turns and looks at him then, looks at Eddie straight in the eye, and there’s that sadness Eddie had been trying to pin down. It’s grown past his eyes to plaster fully across his whole face.

He turns away again, adjusting his glasses.

“You really are a heartbreaker, Eds, you know that?”

Richie stands up and Eddie stands, too. He reaches out to touch Richie’s arm, but Richie flinches away before he gets the chance. Eddie’s hand falls uselessly to his side.

He starts a sentence without knowing how to finish it, “I didn’t mean…” 

It hangs, and Eddie knows that it’s worse than having not said anything at all.

Richie won’t look at him anymore, tells him, “No, listen, I get it,” and “You saved my life.” Bile rises in Eddie’s throat.

Richie sniffs, nods to himself, says, “I’m gonna, uh, get some air,” and then he’s gone.

And Eddie is left alone, in Richie’s room with Richie’s things, wondering what the fuck just happened.

 

vi.

Eddie sits on the curb of the Derry Town House parking lot and eyes his bloody shower curtain where, impossibly, it still sits undisturbed in the middle of the lot.

He had almost forgotten he had gotten stabbed in the face the day before. Life’s funny like that.

He had contemplated waiting up for Richie in his room, but it felt too intrusive, too much like an ambush. So he decided to ambush him in the parking lot instead.

Richie’s car has been gone all day.

It’s beginning to get dark, sun sinking in the sky, and Eddie’s not sure if Richie will come back at all. He wonders for the hundredth time that day if the small duffel he’d left in his room would be worth coming back for.

His foot is tapping, had been tapping for the last hour, and he breathes out shakily. He may be panicking a little bit.

He’d trudged downstairs after a short and totally reasonable bout of pouting on Richie’s bed, clutching Richie’s pillow to him. The others had asked after Richie, and Eddie hadn’t known how to answer.

“Um,” he’d said, horrified to find his voice pitched high and panicky. “I may have said some things I shouldn’t have. Or done some things I shouldn’t have? I haven’t really… ah, figured that part out yet. But, um.” He looks at them all, feeling crazy again. From the looks on their faces, the feeling seems mutual. “I’m gonna fix it,” he says, hoping he sounds confident. “I’m gonna fix it.”

And then he’d walked to the parking lot and sat down on the curb, and he’s been sitting here ever since.

He’s contemplating when he should call it quits, wondering if he should just go inside and wait in the hallway—that’s better than the bedroom, right?—when Richie’s obnoxious red car pulls into the parking lot.

Eddie stands up. He knows Richie sees him because Richie just sits in the driver’s seat for a while, glasses pushed up on his forehead, pinching the bridge of his nose. He hasn’t turned the car off. Eddie wonders if he would just back right out and leave again.

The engine cuts off. Eddie breathes out a sigh of relief.

Richie gets out of the car slowly and walks over to Eddie even slower, hands shoved into the pockets of his hoodie. His shoulders are hunched in on himself, the same way they’d been all weekend, and Eddie wonders when that happened—when the loose and carefree boy he’d known had disappeared. He’s sad he wasn’t there to see it. He’s sad he wasn’t there to stop it.

Richie stops six feet away from him, keeping his distance. The sun is low in the sky now, and it glints off Richie’s glasses so Eddie can’t read his expression. Can only see the downward turn of his mouth.

Richie doesn’t say anything.

That’s fine, that’s okay, Eddie thinks. You’ve had all day, you’ve got this. Just like you practiced.

“That’s a dumb car,” Eddie tells him.

His mouth twists. He hadn’t meant to say that.

Richie looks at him, offended and bewildered. “Well fuck you, too.”

“Did you know that statistically red cars are, like, ten percent more likely to get into an accident?”

“A lecture?” Richie sneers at him, Eddie presses his lips together. “Are you serious right now?”

Richie makes a beeline to cut across Eddie and escape into the building, but Eddie doesn’t let him. He rushes forward, hands held out placating when Richie stops short, clearly still not into being touched.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry for that, and I’m sorry for earlier, too.” It comes out rushed, words pushing up against each other as they fly out of his mouth. Eddie has always had a hard time slowing down his thoughts, and so from a young age he’d learned to make his words hurry up to match them. It’s a habit he’s since tried to kick, been told it’s annoying, but Richie had never seemed to have any trouble keeping up.

“Eddie,” Richie says his name and it sounds like it pains him. “Just- just stop, okay? I get it, alright? I really, really do. I knew you were m-” Richie stutters on the word. Eddie thinks of Bill, and then shoves that thought away. “I knew your deal from the moment I got a good look at you in the restaurant, okay. I know I shouldn’t have-” He stops, starts again, “I just thought-” Richie wrinkles his nose, shakes his head. “Listen, let’s just forget it, alright? We can… forget it and go back to normal.” 

Richie says the word ‘normal’ like it tastes bad coming out.

“What’s normal for us, Rich?”

“Dude, I don’t know,” Richie says, shoulders falling. He looks so tired, then. Looks so old, and Eddie is all at once furious at all the time they’ve lost.

“I don’t want to forget it,” he tells him. Richie looks up at him. “I don’t want to forget any of it ever again, Rich.”

Eddie’s breaths are coming out in shaky gasps, and he can’t believe himself right now. Can’t believe he’s having a fit at a time like this. His hands itch to pat down his pockets, look for his aspirator. Eddie shoves the impulse down, balling his hands in tight fists instead.

“I didn’t just save your life,” he says. “I mean, I did. Obviously. But I just mean.” Rattling breath in. “I meant the kiss too. I meant all of that.”

Eddie isn’t so much breathing anymore as he is gasping and wheezing. Richie takes a step forward, and then another, and then all of a sudden he’s at Eddie’s side, hands fluttering around him, unsure what to do to help.

Eddie,” he says, and it’s the same way he’s been saying it all fucking weekend. Eddie knows he doesn’t deserve it.

He bats Richie’s hands away, says, “No, no, I’m fine. I’m good. I just need to-”

He nods at nothing and sits back down hard on the curb.

“I just think- I’m having- a panic attack,” he tells Richie, voice pitched up in a horrible imitation of calm.

Richie crouches down in front of him, hands coming up to rest on Eddie’s knees. His thumbs rub small circles there.

“Fuck,” Eddie says. Wheezes. “Fuck, I have so much I have to say to you.”

“Whatever it is, Eddie, it can wait-”

No,” Eddie says. Yells. Whatever. “No, it can’t fucking wait, Richie.” He sucks in air between words. “We’ve waited- so fucking long- I am so fucking sick- of waiting.”

Eddie does slow down though, takes a few seconds to try to get his breathing marginally under control. He counts to five, and then he counts to 10, then thinks, fuck it.

“Rich, I’ve been- so fucking scared. For forever. For as long as I can remember. I’ve been scared my whole fu-ucking life.” Eddie’s breath hitches and he looks at Richie with wild eyes. “There are so many things that terrify me every- goddamn day. And that’s not even mentioning all the things I didn’t remember being afraid of until four fucking days ago.” He gasps, chokes on it.

“So, what I did was-” Wheeze. “I started thinking about- all of the things that I’ve ever been afraid of. Lined them up together.” He breathes. “Disease. And infection, and crickets. And my mother. And the dark, and ferris wheels, and those stupid little stickers they put on apples, and, like, drowning. And you,” Richie’s fingers tighten on Eddie’s knees. Eddie’s not sure if it’s on purpose. “And that fucking pomeranian.” 

Richie looks like he wants to interrupt, so Eddie cuts himself short, then barrels on.

“And you know what? They’re stupid. They’re all so fucking dumb. It’s a million stupid things. And they all amount to nothing, Richie, nothing, because I have never been half as scared as I was when I thought I might lose you. Not ever.” Eddie makes sure to look him in the eye then, makes sure he understands. “You eclipse all those things. And I can’t-” He sucks in a thin, wheezing breath, “I can’t let you walk away from me.” He swallows, it takes a second. “God, I can’t fucking breathe.”

Richie pitches forwards, falls to his knees in front of Eddie. He grips his legs, just above the knees, and squeezes tight. “Hey. Hey, it’s okay. I’m not leaving, Eds, I’m not going anywhere.”

Eddie lets out a noise somewhere between a laugh and a whimper, thanking some deity he doesn’t believe in that Richie was able to make sense of that nonsense, and just nods along, head hanging down as he tries to get his breathing under control.

Richie sits with him through it, muttering calming words of encouragement, and slowly, painstakingly slowly, Eddie’s able to breathe normally again.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” he says slowly, still breathing deeply around his sentences. “I didn’t mean to freak out. I just,” he laughs bitterly at the neat circle of it. “I was just scared.” He looks up at Richie, and finds his eyes, sees the vulnerability there. 

Eddie thinks, I’m not scared anymore, but that’s not true. Because of course he’s still scared, he’s still fucking terrified. But that had never really been the point anyway.

“Now I want to be brave.”

And that’s the truth of it. Eddie has spent his whole life being scared of things he both could and couldn’t put names to, and he’s let those things dictate his life. But Richie has always, always helped him be brave. Helped him find the courage that Eddie is starting to think may have been inside him all along. 

He’d just forgotten. 

And when he came back here, came back to this stupid town, where he’s had to learn over and over again what it really means to be afraid, it made him scared of Richie, too. 

And Eddie is so fucking over it.

He grabs Richie’s hands where they’re still gripping his legs and pulls him upright so they’re both standing. He looks up at Richie and he feels brave.

“What about your wife?”

Richie says it quietly, like he’s hoping Eddie won’t hear him.

Eddie looks at Richie. Then he looks down at his left hand. Then he pries the ring from his finger, pulling and tugging until it comes loose. He lets it fall to the ground, doesn’t look to see where it lands.

Richie’s eyes stare wide into his, “Really?”

Eddie smiles up at him, feeling sappy and proud.

“It’s you, Rich,” he shrugs, helpless. “I think it’s always been you.”

The answering smile that blooms across Richie’s faces is blindingly beautiful.

Richie leans down, arms moving to wrap around Eddie’s back. 

Eddie grips Richie’s forearms tightly, leans back a fraction of an inch.

“Don’t throw up this time.”

“God, I’ll try.”