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feel this burning, love of mine

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In the seconds when Richie’s head weaves languidly in and out of consciousness, he hears Eddie’s voice. He tries to come to, eyes lolling open and closed, before falling back into the comfortable dark. But his mind chases that distant noise. Eddie, talking so quickly that the words tie themselves together, a rope that slowly hauls Richie back to the surface. Richie wants to move his lips to smile. Even if he’s cursing him out right now, calling him a motherfucker, or a shithead, or whatever...it’s always so good to hear Eddie’s voice...it’s always, so good...

Richie opens his eyes. His heartbeat thrums loud in his temples. His back aches. The blurry figure so close to his face begins to take form, and it’s Eddie, it has to be. Richie still can’t really hear what he’s saying. Richie opens his lips, half a murmur and half a groan escaping, blinking heavily. Eddie appears after the third blink, silhouetted by unworldly light and so close. Richie tries to listen, tries to understand what he’s saying, and then a spike bursts through the front of his chest. The ringing in Richie’s ears is so sudden, the shock so quick, that he only sees Eddie mouth his name before he’s pulled back on the spike and thrown aside.

   

 

And then Eddie is dying. Richie is at his side and his fingers are shaking so badly he can barely hold his jacket to the wound to staunch any blood. Eddie is looking sometimes at him and sometimes past him, far away, and Richie doesn’t understand why or how this is happening. 

“Hey, hey. Look at me, Eds. Look at me, come on,” Richie says, and takes Eddie’s uninjured cheek in his shaking hand. He turns Eddie’s head to look at him and leaves his hand there, pinky under his chin to keep him from nodding forward. “You’re okay, yeah? Yeah.” Richie doesn’t know why he’s smiling, unconvincing as his lip quivers, but it seems to give Eddie some sort of comfort as he leans his head into Richie’s hand.

For a moment, Richie tears his eyes away to check behind him, to check for the others. Where the fuck are they? Did they not see Eddie get fucking impaled and tossed down here? And did they not see Richie blindly stumbling after him into this cavern? He pauses and tries to listen over his heartbeat. He hears their shouts, too far and too echoed to make out. So they must be coming. They have to. But other than their distant calling and Richie’s heart pounding, there’s awful silence. IT must be preoccupied on the other side of the lair. Or maybe IT’s taking a five minute break to think up some other fucked up form to take to torture them. Whatever’s fucking happening, Richie needs to hope that his friends are safe. He needs to hope they’re coming soon. He really fucking needs them to come soon.

He turns back to Eddie. His eyes are still locked on Richie, like they never moved. Suddenly, he reaches out and grabs the arm that’s cradling his cheek, right above the elbow. He grips harder than Richie would have thought possible, especially now.

Eddie struggles to get out a single “Richie” and another dribble of blood escapes his lips. Richie looks over his whole face—eyebrows knitted in the way they always are, both cheeks flecked and smeared with dirt, eyes shining with tears. He doesn’t try to blink them away and one falls down his cheek, and Richie’s heart is breaking. He wipes his own dirty thumb across Eddie’s cheek where he’s holding it, tries to wipe the filth away.

“Mhm?” Richie asks, and pulls in a shaking breath. If he tries to say more, his own tears might spill over.

“I’m cold,” Eddie says. Richie’s face crumples and his heart sinks as he drops his head to squeeze his eyes shut. He feels himself rock forward and backward on his knees before lifting his head to look at Eddie again. He has to look at him. He needs to be looking at him.

Fuck, Eddie…” Richie gets out before he’s sobbing. But he continues like he isn’t. “I’m pretty cold too, man. I just had to give you my jacket.” Richie tries to breathe, but he can’t before another few sobs wrack him. He looks up as Eddie smiles passively and coughs, or maybe laughs, once. 

“Don’t leave,” Eddie says quietly, and god fucking damn it, it breaks him that Eddie thinks he ever would. 

“No, fuck no, Eddie. I’m not going to.” He adjusts his grip on the jacket against Eddie’s stomach, winces when Eddie gasps in pain. Richie’s lip shakes again as he just keeps talking. “Frankly I’m insulted that you’d think I’d leave you, after just remembering you're my best fucking friend in the world, after twenty seven fucking years. My clown-murdering partner in crime! How could I ever leave you? Fuck no, I’m not leaving you, Eds. Idiot,” He laughs emptily, rubbing Eddie’s cheek, and pauses, beginning to nod to himself as a goal flits into his mind. “I’m going to pick you up, I’m going to get you out of here, to a hospital. Right now. And—” Eddie’s grip on his arm tightens, and he stops.

“No.”

“Eddie.”

“I...I have to know,” Eddie continues, and coughs. It sounds too wet. And he continues, strained, the sound of blood in his throat. “If...when...we were kids,” He winces suddenly, and it takes him a second to catch a few shallow breaths. Richie wants to grab him right now and haul him the fuck out of here. But Eddie is insistent on holding him there, with trying to speak, so Richie tries anything, anything, to make this better.

“Did I fuck your mom? You bet I did.”

Eddie shakes his head weakly. “Did you have,” He continues, and Richie is waiting. Eddie’s eyes sparkle with tears as he finishes. “...a crush on me?”

Richie’s stomach drops sharply, because Eddie is dying. And he’s insisting that Richie think about then, about that, right now, as he’s dying. That was all supposed to be buried deep, past all the other fucked up things that culminate in Richie Tozier, and that garbage lid was supposed to stay shut. That knowledge, recently rediscovered, about who Richie is. That memory, unearthed, of loving Eddie. 

Of looking at him through thick glasses across the quarry, just a shirtless shrimp, and feeling something anyway. Of arguing, and loving it, because Eddie was looking at him with fire in his eyes and shoving him back. Of heat on his cheeks from happiness and sunburn that lingered for days. Richie loved him, back then. And then he up and forgot about it, and about being able to love anyone, for that matter, for twenty seven fucking years.

It was shocking to remember that fact, at the restaurant that first night. His second shot burned as it went down and he reveled in the warmth, but turning to see Eddie fucking Kaspbrak laughing at something Ben said—that somehow made his insides burn. And that feeling, buried so deep after years and years of clown magic bullshit, possessed him again. And he felt drunk on it. There’d been no relief ever since he’d been back, even with everything else that should’ve been on his mind. So he tried to put it off. Tried to turn every moment with Eddie into a chance for Richie to push it aside. But he constantly burned, despite doing his fucking best to not feed into it or acknowledge it again.

Now Eddie is waiting for him, as he dies, to acknowledge it again.

“I did,” Richie answers. Eddie opens and closes his bloody lips at that. “Sorry.”

“No,” Eddie murmurs, and the hand that’s gripping his arm softens, and his thumb begins to move, back and forth. Richie gets senselessly lost in the feeling of it, forgetting that Eddie is bleeding out onto the stone beneath them. “I…” he stops, searches Richie’s eyes desperately, but only wet gurgles escape his throat until he closes his mouth again. It brings Richie right back into what can’t be fucking happening, and he sees Eddie’s face whiter than it was, his lips stained red with blood but noticeably blue. His breath is coming in slow, short, wet bursts. 

“I still do,” Richie decides to say, and for a confession it brings no relief. Eddie is dying. His friends are not here. Eddie looks back with nothing more than a look of slight confusion. Richie bites his tongue to hold back a sob, and doesn’t look away.“I still have the biggest fucking crush on you. I can’t even call it that anymore. I just love you.” He paws at Eddie’s cheek, hands so shaky and clammy that they start to slide off. “So I need you to stay, right here with me, so I can keep you, and keep on fucking crushing on you and annoying you, until we kill IT and you can go home. So you...you fucking…” he’s crying now, because Eddie’s arm has fallen from where he’d gripped Richie’s arm. His head is heavy against Richie’s hand, and his eyes aren’t looking at him anymore. Richie watches for a breath, and he sees one, short and shallow and aimless. “Fuck. FUCK. Please, Eddie. No. No no no no...Eds please, please don’t fucking go, please. Eds. Please!” He ducks his head forward to lean it against Eddie’s shoulder, his hand still holding Eddie’s head upright, the other pressing his jacket into the wound as hard as he can. He wails into the collar of Eddie’s shirt, and he feels the breaths beneath him stutter, and Eddie doesn’t move, doesn’t answer him. Richie murmurs helplessly. “I love you. I love you, I love you, Eddie. Please.” 

He waits, pausing his sobbing, to listen for another breath beneath him. It doesn’t come.

Richie keeps his head against Eddie’s chest and tries to feel nothing at all.

 

Instead, Richie feels Eddie’s chest shaking, feels his stomach moving beneath his jacket that Richie’s still pressing into. He hears laughing, loud and maniacal and echoing against the cavern walls. Richie pulls back, eyes wide and heaving. He watches as Eddie laughs right at him, slapping his knee, letting Richie’s jacket fall away to the side as he doubles over. Richie tries to feel elation, tries to reevaluate the fear and sadness he’s feeling, but Eddie starts to change, and Richie’s hope turns to horror. 

The corners of Eddie’s mouth split at the seams. An invisible knife pulls a deep cut at the corners of his mouth, and drags up along his cheeks as a laugh bubbles up from deep within, unhinged guffaws dissolving into giggling and biting his lip as he looks up at the cavern ceiling. The cut travels slowly up his face, skipping over his eyes before continuing, and the knife stops just as Eddie’s head snaps back down to grin at Richie. 

“Beep beep.”

Richie scrambles to his feet just as Eddie rises, janky and inhuman. He rushes forward, blood still gushing from his abdomen and following closely behind as Richie scrambles back up the cavern towards the opening. His boots slide on the rock and he fumbles, climbing on all fours when the incline increases. Fuck. Oh fucking, fucking shit. 

“Richie, you said you’d stay,” IT pleads, voice morphing into Eddie’s on that last word, and the rage bubbles up inside of Richie as he turns to look over his shoulder. 

“I would have, you fucking bitch,” Richie says, and pauses his climbing. IT is catching up to him fast, Eddie’s fingers sprouting into claws to grip the stone beneath him, and Richie readies his leg to to kick IT right in the fucking face. But IT reaches out with Eddie’s arm and grabs his other leg instead, pulling him down and leaving Richie on his stomach. Trying to fight the lack of air in his lungs, Richie rolls out of the way as Eddie’s fingers slash the ground where he just was. Richie tries to crawl again, but his eyes are locked on Eddie’s smiling face as it slowly melts into Pennywise.

“I know your secret, I’m gonna tell your secret,” IT sings, voice still mingling with Eddie’s as IT creeps towards him, teeth gnashing, and Richie feels the fear, the real fear, in him. But he feels the rage much more.

He kicks his leg out again and hits Pennywise’s right in the buck fucking teeth. He sees a few chips like white paint fly off of Pennywise’s face as IT falls backwards and off of him, tumbling back down into the cavern and landing in a pile of bent limbs at the bottom. Richie takes a moment to catch his breath, and waits, before the stone beneath him collapses and he falls into nothingness. 

 

He lands on his side, and his eyes open before any other senses return. This time, when someone reaches out for him, he flinches and grabs blindly up to stop them, blinking furiously to get the fog to clear from his eyes until he sees the figures above him. He sees Bev first, her face twisted with worry, and she smiles desperately when she sees Richie’s eyes lock on her.

“Richie.”

“What the...fuck...” Richie starts, but it fades away as the others become clear. Bill and Ben pull his arms so he’s upright. He’s in a different cavern, this one darker, casting deep shadows across Bev’s face as she combs the hair off back off of Richie’s forehead where it’s stuck with sweat. He tries to take a deep breath. 

“What are you doing down here?” Mike asks, kneeling and leaning closer to him. All of them lean closer, Bev placing a reassuring hand on his leg, Bill keeping his shoulders upright. And finally, Richie sees him over Ben’s shoulder—bandage on his cheek, eyebrows knitted the way they always are, his puppy dog eyes so worried. So typical. Richie’s tears up without any warning. 

“Eds,” Richie croaks, and reaches for him like a child. “Oh my fucking god.” He moves his unsteady legs to push past his friends and grab onto the back of his neck, pulling him into a hug that Richie feels push the air out of Eddie’s lungs. But Eddie catches his breath, normally, fully, from an unpierced chest, before placing one hand on Richie’s back and patting. 

”Hey, yeah. I’m also here.”

“You sure fucking are,” Richie says into his shirt, into the same place he’d rested his head after Eddie stopped answering him. The memory feels so close, feels like it’s still happening, but it’s not, and it never was. Richie nuzzles deeper into Eddie’s shirt. “God, IT is a fucking monster.”

“I think we’ve established that, seeing as we’re here to kill IT and whatnot,” Eddie says, and then pulls Richie back from him. Richie breaks away, embarrassed and out of breath. Eddie looks at him, and Richie tries to focus on the lines on Eddie’s forehead rather than his eyes. It’s all too much.“Hey, Rich, are you good?” Eddie asks, moving his head so he can try to catch Richie’s gaze. “Why are you down here? We’ve been looking for you. IT disappeared and we all spent precious fucking time looking for you, I hope you’re happy—”

“IT was fucking with me, man.” Richie quickly shakes his head, trying to be rid of the creeping images that try to appear behind his eyes. 

“Then we must have all just gotten personally tortured,” Ben suggests as he looks around at the others. “I was almost just buried alive.”

“I almost drowned. In blood,” Bev says, gesturing to her current state, and Richie realizes her hair is matted against her head in a thick sheet, her body covered in smears of red. She and Ben then look at each other in a way that Richie can’t afford to think too hard about.

Bill seems to have his own thing that he’s just had to face from the trembling breath they all hear him take, but Richie is suddenly tearing up for real now, and they’re all looking at him again.

“What happened?” Bev asks, and gently straightens the crooked, cracked glasses on Richie’s face. 

Bill’s breath had made him remember Eddie, unable to speak from the blood that clogged his throat. “I watched Eddie die,” He says before he can stop himself. He doesn’t look at any of them, and instead stares down at his own dirt-covered shoes. “Well. I thought it was Eddie. But it wasn’t. IT just kinda made me watch Eddie die. Slowly.” He tries to say it all in the least panic-inducing way possible, but he still feels a certain pair of eyes suddenly bore holes into him. He sees out of his peripherals all the others turn to see Eddie’s reaction. Richie hears Eddie clear his throat. He continues before anyone can say anything. “IT made it seem like he got uh...impaled. After saving me from the deadlights. And then he bled out.”

“The deadlights?” Mike asks incredulously, and Richie finally looks up. “None of us ever saw you get caught in the deadlights. We all found a cave to regroup in and you were just gone. That’s when we realized IT was gone too. We thought maybe you’d gone off to fight IT alone, or we thought maybe IT…”

“We had no idea where you were until we heard you s-screaming,” Bill says. Richie watches Mike wipe a hand across his forehead repeatedly and sigh. All of that was bullshit. The deadlights, Eddie dying. All of that was IT. Bill swallows. “You were screaming for—”

”We were so scared,” Bev finishes.

Richie raises his eyebrows in realization, and looks between all of them, minus one. He forces a flat smile. “Well, I was just down here. In this cavern. Being psychologically tortured. You know how it is.”

Above them, there’s a muffled screech and pounding against the cavern ceiling. Debris drifts down slowly from the ceiling of the cavern onto them in the panicked silence that follows. It seems like the spider-IT that killed Eddie the first time is rearing up for another round. This time for real. 

“I think IT’s done fucking with us,” Bill says, and none of them have to say anything to agree.

Richie sighs and rises to his feet, the others following. He wipes the dirt from his button-up and forearms, frowning when he shivers from the cold.

“IT ruined my fucking jacket,” he says, before he steadies himself. “So let’s kill that motherfucker.” 

 

They do. It’s hard, and it’s only when Eddie has an epiphany that it really begins to work. But the way they do it fucking rules. Richie gets to hurl all his anger at IT’s face, gets to feel brave again, gets to watch IT pathetically shrink in fear, and gets to hear Eddie go absolutely wild with the word “fuck” in the face of that shitty ass clown. They corner IT, watch the clown shrivel up revoltingly, and they all get to crush the heart together. It’s awful, but it’s also joyous and thrilling as they escape the collapsing lair, and Richie is just thinking towards whatever level of hell IT is currently on that it’s what you deserve, to die. To die down here because of us, you fucking asshole clown.

 

The house on Neibolt collapses. Richie splays himself out on the sidewalk afterwards and lets himself bake in the sun. There was a large part of him that, upon entering that house, really didn’t think he’d feel the sun again. He’d tried to be brave about it, but his hopes had gotten pretty bleak in those final hours— so lying on the sidewalk, he tries to simply feel the warmth on his face and know that it’s over.

He feels a presence next to him, and it’s Mike, lying on his back next to him. Richie doesn’t even try to imagine how exhausted, and how relieved, he must be. He squints one eye open to watch as Ben slings an arm around Bev’s shoulder, silently pulling her into a long embrace. Bill is still looking towards the pile of rubble, hands in his pockets. And finally, right next to the sun, Eddie is standing and staring at him.

Richie does a tiny, definitely imperceivable, double take. He lifts his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, and there’s Eddie, arms loosely at his side, looking super fucking uncomfortable as he stares Richie down in silence. Richie’s heart soars at simply seeing him there. Yes, Eddie does look very concerned, but thinking about that demands way to much brain power right now. Richie’s brain is on do not disturb mode and he wants to keep it like that for at least ten more seconds.

“Eduardo, come join the siesta,” he insists.

Eddie just sniffs and looks away, rolls himself back on his heels. “I’ve sat in enough filth for one day, thanks,” he says. “There’s dirt in my fucking nostrils. There’s clown heart goop on my hands. This entire trip has been so fucking disgusting.”

“We should go wash off,” Bev suggests. 

Eddie points at Bev and nods insistently. “Listen to the brilliant Bev. Let’s go wash off, let’s go back to the—”

“The quarry,” Bill says, finally turning around. “We should go to the quarry.”

“Now that’s the full circle bullshit I’m into!” Richie exclaims. He revels in the way that Eddie’s dirt-filled nostrils flare, as he opens his mouth to propel into a spiel on the ninety five reasons they should not try to get themselves clean in the quarry. Richie leans back with his hands behind his head to listen to reason number one. 

 

But Eddie isn’t even the last one to jump. Sure, he comments profusely on the no trespassing sign, but Richie can tell he’s tired, they’re all so tired, and no one is even bothering to counter his arguments anymore. Bev’s leap off the edge is the final silent insistence that he is, in fact, going to jump in that water along with his friends.

“My bandage is going to get so fucking full of this fucking water, we have to get out of there after like three minutes I swear to god,” Eddie is saying, as Ben takes a running leap and disappears over the edge. Eddie toes off his shoes. “And Richie, if you splash me down there, I will literally send you my medical bills when my cheek inevitably gets infected and I have to transplant half my face. You absolute shit.”

“Okay, fuck you, fine,” Richie says, but he’s softly smiling. The summer sun is highlighting the sweat on Eddie’s brow. The lines on his forehead are so deep from all those years of worrying. Richie feels something burning so deeply in his chest that he can’t stop himself from placing a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “Hey. Don’t worry,” Richie says, more softly than he intended to, and then he starts to walk backwards towards the edge, still looking Eddie’s way. “I’ve had my own Netflix special. I can afford to pay your face transplant bills.” Then Richie turns and takes those last few steps before he jumps off the edge, embracing the feeling of endless falling, memorizing Eddie’s look of fond annoyance.

When he hits the water, Eddie is still there. But he is spurting blood from his chest into Richie’s mouth, on his chin, on his clothes. Richie is sinking deeper and deeper underwater, his mind suddenly replaying it all in the silence. Eddie is dying, prompting him to confess, and then laughing about it. Richie wills himself to let it go, let it float away in the water around him. But he hears the laughing come and go in waves, hears IT’s voice say “I’m gonna tell your secret ”, hears Bill saying “we heard you screaming”. Richie hates not being able to breathe down here. He kicks and claws towards the surface, bubbles streaming from his nose, and gasps for air when he breaks the surface.

“You okay, Rich?” Ben asks, floating towards him. 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m—“ Richie starts, before someone hits the water a few feet from him and sends a wave of water across both him and Ben. Richie wipes his unruly hair back as he blinks the water away, and up from the depths comes Eddie, sputtering and swearing as soon as he gets a breath. 

“Oh god. The microorganisms,” He’s saying, and Richie can’t help but bark a laugh and swim towards him. “I wish this wasn’t so fucking refreshing.” Eddie wipes the water from his eyes. “I wish I wasn’t peer pressured into this like we’re all in fucking middle school again...I swear if I wasn’t on an insane adrenaline rush from all the clown-killing I’d...” he finds Richie’s gaze and gives up on what he’s saying to laugh. Richie swims up close and around him, the two of them wordlessly paddling around the other and giggling like kids. Eddie is the one who starts the splashing, and Richie dives under the water and tries to grab his legs in retaliation. Eddie fights him off, but not for long, and they end up both toppling over into the water. They push each other under, and Eddie calls him every name in the book after he gets water up his nose, but it’s worth it. 

 

Once they’ve all exhausted themselves they sit on the shallow end of the quarry, silent for some moments, chatting lightly in others. One of them might chime in to reflect on a little thing from their separate lives, or reflect on that summer they spent together. Or reflect on Stan. That brings another silent moment for them to lie back and settle into. 

Later on, Richie is a little further away from the others as Bill talks about his first time on set. He’s washing the dirt out of the crevices of his glasses under the water. There’s blood on them, but it’s not real. It’s just pretend blood, from a bad prank this clown pulled on him. Who is dead, by the way. Who he helped kill.

That makes Richie smile to himself, digging a fingernail deep into the corner of the glass. Richie hears movement in the water and Eddie is suddenly beside him. Richie looks over just as Eddie sits down, waist-deep in the water and grimacing, and Richie just goes back to his work. His heart is pounding despite himself, but he can ignore that. He should be a-okay in any conversation. As long as Eddie doesn’t have the audacity to bring up IT making Richie watch him die.

“So IT made you watch me die,” Eddie starts. Richie pauses, watching the water ripple over and distort his glasses. “That’s fucked up.”

“It’s been a fucked up couple days,” Richie answers after a moment. “That was just a fun little bonus.” 

Eddie doesn’t laugh. He just stares at Richie scrubbing the same spot on his glasses over some spec of dirt that’s lodged deep in one of the cracks. “I can’t imagine watching you...or any of us... die. Slowly, apparently. Bleeding out.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t crazy about it,” Richie mutters. He swallows as he lets a few key images of the memory come to mind. “Convincing performance, though. Until your face starting splitting open into Pennywise’s fucked up clown makeup. That’s when I started to think to myself hey, I think something a little fishy might be going on here.” He says it in a voice and everything, trying to get Eddie to smile, to see it out of the corner of his eye.

Eddie’s mouth stays flat. “Jesus,” he murmurs. 

“But I kicked IT in the head and sent him flying like twenty feet, so. At least I got to prove my brute strength.” Eddie does huff a laugh at that. Richie’s eyes move to watch Eddie’s fingers move lightly over the water, barely touching it.

Eddie’s voice is softer when he continues. “IT always knew how to mess us up, like, personally. The leper, for me, always the leper. Georgie, for Bill. So, is that what you were afraid of? Watching us die?”

No, Richie instantly thinks. Kind of, he then tries to rationalize. And then the slow-burning heat that lives in his chest radiates up to his cheeks as he thinks, intrusively, it was that I said I love you. It was that I know I will never be with you, ever, in my life. It was that I will keep living in quiet shame and if you ever do know, you will hate me. And that you will leave, and I will have never told you. And that if I do, it will always be always too late.

“Yeah,” Richie says. Eddie hears the crack in his voice, which fucking sucks. But Eddie doesn’t say anything, just moves his hand that was tracing patterns on the water to instead lean his fingertips gently against Richie’s arm as he cleans his glasses. Richie tries not to think about it, tries not to associate it with Eddie moving his thumb back and forth as he died. Richie tries not to think at all. But then he’s saying things.

“I think it was more you, though. It would’ve been awful, so fucking awful, if it had been anyone. But because it was you,” Richie clenches his teeth and talks through them. “It was so fucking terrible to watch. And you would’ve hated being down there the most, I think. I would have tried to get you out of there, even when you.” He has to swallow thickly again. “Died, or...maybe I would have just refused to leave you altogether.” He pauses, looks at Eddie’s fingertips. Richie doesn’t really want to know, but he has to ask. “Did you hear me? Talking to you. To IT, I mean. Down there.”

“No,” Eddie says carefully. Richie’s chest deflates slowly in relief. But then Eddie’s fingers move away, and he flexes his hand instead. “This is just fucking awful, Richie, but. When we started to get close enough to hear you, it just sounded like...begging. Fuck, man, I’m so sorry,” Eddie says, and its his turn to grab the back of Richie’s neck and pull him closer. Richie drops his glasses and instinctively turns to wrap his arms around Eddie, keeping a hand on the back of his head and holding him close, inhaling the smell of skin and the sweat on his neck. He’s crying, and he hopes Eddie doesn’t notice. But Eddie whispers “I’m here,” and Richie sort of loses it. He sobs once, audibly, and it makes Eddie pull him closer. “I’m so fucking sorry,” Eddie murmurs into his chest. As his heart pounds from the proximity, Richie thinks that he’s sorry too. He’s fucking sorry too. 

“Fuck that fucking clown,” Richie says instead. 

“Fuck that fucking clown,” Eddie echoes, muffled by Richie’s shirt. 

 

They leave the quarry after spending ten minutes looking for Richie’s glasses. Eddie curses him out for it, for making him spend even more time in this water, and it makes Richie feel worlds better. 

They go back to the Inn. It’s more somber than a celebration, and everyone agrees with Eddie that it’s just time to take a fucking shower before they even attempt a meal. So Richie does. He waits at the door to his room so he can watch as Eddie walks to his, muttering to himself, gesturing wildly to only the air before he closes the door behind him. When Richie turns his head back to the stairs, he is left watching Ben and Bev looking at each other deeply on the stairwell, talking hushedly, and down in the lobby he watches Bill insist that Mike simply use his shower and borrow some clothes so that he doesn’t have to go back to the library.

And then Richie takes a shower. He lets the water run over him for a long time before he really does anything.

After this, they will all go home. Ben and Bev will probably run away together. Bill will go back to set. Mike will finally be able to move on. And Eddie will probably go to many, many doctors appointments to get his stab wound checked out and his entire body scanned for microorganisms. And then he will go back to his wife.

Meanwhile, Richie will start a cross country comedy tour in three weeks and hopefully be able to start repressing all of this bullshit.

But goddammit, he doesn’t want to forget. Richie presses a fist against the shower wall in front of him before he drops it, ashamed at how fucking dramatic that is. The selfishness burns wildly within him now. To see Eddie again, at the restaurant, and feel it again. That’s one thing. To walk back through his places of his childhood, to feel the memories seep slowly back in, that’s another. To remember that he is in love, and still fall deeper into it, now that is just fucking something. But to confess, and watch Eddie die, and then get him back again. It feels like a second chance. Eddie will go home, that is for sure. But Richie cannot just let him leave, not without him knowing that Richie has made an insane realization— that he never wants to lose Eddie, in any capacity, ever again.

But, shit. How do you even lose someone you never had?

 

After spending way too long in the shower, to the point where he’ll have to make it seem like he was jacking off instead of sobbing, Richie steps out of his room to Ben waiting for him with two bags of McDonalds, one in each hand. 

“No onion for the picky boy,” Ben says, holding one of the bags up. 

“Have you been waiting out here?” Richie asks. Ben shrugs, which Richie doesn’t think is an appropriate answer, but Ben just holds out the bag and shakes it until Richie takes it. 

“You got me a fucking Big Mac, man?” Richie asks, looking inside. “No onion and everything?” For the fourteen thousandth time on this godforsaken day, Richie feels like he’s going to cry.

“Actually, Mike got us all Big Macs, but I’ll take partial credit for delivering it to you.” Ben digs into his own bag and shoves a handful of fries in his mouth “Also there’s a party in Bill’s room,” Ben says between chews, and Richie feels his stomach both leap and drop simultaneously. It’s all very confusing. 

Even so, Richie feels like he’s finally just gained his appetite back for the first time since being back in Derry, and fuck, were McDonald’s fries always this good? When Ben opens the door to Bill’s room Richie realizes that both he and Ben are standing there with fries literally hanging out of their mouths, silently chewing as Richie reaches to shovel in more. Mike claps for them as they walk in, and Richie hands him a fry in compensation as he situates himself on the floor at the foot of Bill’s bed, right next to Eddie. Bev stirs her McFlurry meticulously as she lies on her stomach across Bill’s bed, as Bill sits with his back against the headboard taking careful bites of his burger. Ben and Mike sit and eat on the small loveseat next to the bed, flipping through channels on the small tv across the room, until they find Golden Girls and Ben grips Mike’s arm in warning when he tries to change it. Bev starts to go on about her favorite episodes and Ben joins in, and Richie undoes the wrapping of his burger, telling himself this is the only love he needs.

Richie takes a massive bite before he’s even swallowed his last handful of his fries. 

Eddie is eyeing him. “Why do you always eat like you’re being paid to prove how good the food is?”

“You eat like a bird,” Richie says through a mouthful, wiping sauce from the corner of his mouth. Eddie’s face slowly contorts into incredulous fury.

“I do not fucking eat like a bird what the fuck does that even mean—

 

Minutes later, after insisting he doesn’t eat them, Eddie is finishing Richie’s fries. Eddie eats each one four bites at a time. Richie can’t even focus on the episode they’re all watching and laughing at, because he’s just so enamored with the way it’s always four bites. Eddie reaches back into Richie’s bag without looking, pulling a fry out and laughing at the joke on screen, before biting it. Four bites, again. 

At one point, Eddie starts to say something, turning quickly Richie’s way, and stops when he sees Richie is already looking. And he doesn’t do anything, doesn’t try to continue and doesn’t snap at him. He simply looks his way, and Richie feels the urge to lean forward and kiss the salt off his lips. It’s fleeting, and he hates himself, and it leaves his limbs feeling heavy for a long time after he turns away.

 

It was, and is, his greatest nightmare to have Eddie know. After twenty seven years, that was still what IT wanted—for Richie to feel that shame, that deeply rooted gnawing that you’re fucked for wanting him, for ever wanting him, for ever even considering wanting him. And it worked.

When he was a kid, Richie carved R+E into the kissing bridge. It was a thoughtless act that he regretted, despite the cartwheels his stomach did in the process. The embarrassment of knowing he did that had burned for a long time— until it suddenly didn’t, because he’d forgotten. But Richie remembers now.

In the dim light from a single lamp in his room, Richie decides that it’s okay. He is going to be the fucking creepy childhood friend that’s in love with a married man, and he is going to tell him. Because maybe in the rejection he can finally get this out of his system, someday, when they’re a thousand miles apart again. Maybe Richie can write a fucking poem about it, or a joke, or maybe he can just forget again. But at least it might get rid of that shame he felt carving R+E in the the kissing bridge all those years ago.

 

He lifts his hand and knocks on Eddie’s door at about two a.m., when he’s finally too sleeplessly delirious to stop himself. 

“Room service,” Richie softly croons, before a sudden realization of oh wait, fuck, not funny, he actually wants Eddie to let him in, and instead he murmurs “It’s Richie, actually. Not room service.” 

Richie hears the padding of feet over to the door, and then the door opens. Eddie is wearing a matching navy blue pajama set straight out of a sixty-five year old retiree’s wet dream, which Richie will absolutely laugh to himself about later, but right now he can mostly only concentrate on the fact that Eddie is definitely the fucking most beautiful thing that Richie has ever seen in his life. 

“You got me excited thinking my two in the morning room service buffet was here, asshole,” Eddie says, before his face collapses into a smile. Richie wants to melt into the floorboards and become one with the earth. Eddie leans against the doorway. “Can’t sleep?”

“Course not,” Richie answers plainly. “Can you?”

“No.”

Richie pauses. “Can I stay up with you for the rest of the night?”

“Rest of the morning,” Eddie corrects, and gestures for him to come in. 

So Richie does. He looks around, at Eddie’s single black suitcase that’s propped open, a pile of perfectly folded shirts and pants inside, next to the pile of his absolutely filthy clothes that he was wearing today. On the bedside table, there is an unreasonably large bottle of disinfecting alcohol, replacement bandages, and an assortment of pill bottles. The bathroom light is on, and a dirty towel is on the floor in front of the shower, noticeably stained with dirt and blood. Richie moves wordlessly through the room and falls onto Eddie’s bed face first. Richie hears the door of the room click shut before Eddie snaps “get off the comforter, you walking disease.” 

“Fooled you,” Richie says into the sheets. “I just wanted to sleep on a comfier bed. This is my room now.” Eddie grabs him by the shoulders from behind and pulls him up until he’s standing again, and Richie turns around, looking down at the smile Eddie’s trying to hide.

“Oh shit, looks like Eddie Spaghetti is noodle-armed no longer! Are you fucking buff, dude?” He tries to grab for Eddie’s bicep, and Eddie pulls away. “Do you have a secret six pack you’ve been hiding from us? I guess that’d make sense, you don’t usually eat anything but like. Lettuce and raw meat, like an animal—”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Richie reaches for his bicep again and catches it. “Holy shit, there’s muscle here. Actual muscle. Can you bench press me, Eds? Please bench press me,” Richie begs him, gripping his arm tight and coming closer, and he can feel himself becoming more and more giddy. He’s touching Eddie, who is alive, and in a sick sort of way Richie is glad that soon this will all be over and Eddie will hate him, so he can unabashedly enjoy this. 

“You are so fucking annoying,” Eddie mutters. “Have you just been chugging Redbull all night in preparation to come irritate me at two in the morning?”

“I’m on a post-clown-killing high,” Richie says dreamily, and lets Eddie go, sitting on the edge of the bed where he knows Eddie won’t yell at him.

“I guess I am too,” Eddie says, and then lifts a hand to his forehead. “I feel insane.”

“Tell me about it,” Richie says.

“Do you really want me to tell you about it?”

Richie nods on instinct. But Eddie looks at him dead seriously before he squeezes his eyes closed. 

“I told Myra that I want to separate. Like an hour ago.” After he says it, it seems to dawn on him too, and both he and Richie end up raising their eyebrows at each other in sync. Richie is feeling eight thousand different things at once and hopefully showing none of it. 

“Oh?” Richie asks. “H-How’d she take it?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie says. Richie cocks his head microscopically. “I texted her.” 

Richie doesn’t even give himself time to process that one. “You texted your wife that you want to separate?”

“Listen. Shit. I was feeling, you know, this post-clown-killing high! And I was thinking fuck, I love my friends, I love the way I feel. And Myra...for a long, long time, Myra hasn’t made me feel like that at all. She’s like...she’s like my mom, okay? And I don’t want to live trying to please my dead mom anymore. So, because I know what she’s like, Richie, and I know that she’d never even let me get a fucking word in if I called her up and said ‘Hey, I just had a life changing alien clown related experience, I want a divorce’, I wrote a long and well crafted text. More like a letter, really. A digital letter explaining how I feel. And um. Well, I sent it at one in the morning so I still have a few hours before I find out what she has to say. To me, over the phone, probably for like five miserable hours.”

“Holy fuck,” Richie says after a moment. Eddie stares at the wall behind Richie. They stay like that, for a long time. Richie couldn’t say anything if he wanted to. He’s cycling through the few safe thoughts he’s allowed to have— it’s good that Eddie is trying to find happiness. Eddie deserves happiness. Eddie also has surprisingly strong biceps. Eddie is also beautiful, all the time, holy shit, there’s like, moonlight catching a wisp of his hair through the curtains. 

“So. Anyway,” Eddie sighs and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and scrubs them. He huffs a breath. “I bought dried mangos on the drive over.” He looks at Richie then, and looks so, so very tired. “Do you want some?”

“Uh, hell yes,” Richie answers. Eddie walks over to his suitcase and pulls them out of a side pocket, throwing the bag over. “Eddie my love, you are out of this world. It’s really too bad that I married your mom, because if I didn’t, I’d—” Richie gets a pillow to the back of the head, and as he recovers, he feels the weight shift on the bed as Eddie sits against the headboard. Richie dissolves into helpless laughter— he’s joking, yes, and calling Eddie his ‘love’ is nothing more than a childish quip, but Richie feels so free, right now. Eddie still will hate him, of course. But at least he isn’t going back to Myra. At least he’ll be happy.

He pulls the bag of dried mango open, takes a few in his hand, and passes the bag back to Eddie. Carefully, Richie leans back on the bed, letting his back lightly fall onto it, waiting for Eddie to tell him to stop. But there’s only silence as they chew mango slices and Richie stares at the ceiling.

“So it’s over,” Eddie says. Richie stops chewing. 

“Yeah. You’re gonna be single. And at forty, jeez, it’s gonna be rough out there. Trust me, I know.”

“I meant the clown shit, you idiot,” Eddie says, but his voice is softer when he adds “let’s not talk about the other thing.”

Richie tears a dried mango slice in half. “Okay. Well, yeah. Yeah, it’s over. IT is over. No more IT.”

“I’m excited for us to get to be normal people again.” Eddie pauses. “But IT was the main thing we all had in common. Now we’ll have nothing to talk about.”

“We’ll end up just calling each other every couple of months to talk about our gardening projects. How our backs hurt.” Richie arches his back against the bed. “Fuck, my back already hurts so fucking bad, that joke doesn’t even work. Doesn’t your back hurt like all the fucking time?”

“All the fucking time!” Eddie agrees. “I have a great chiropractor though.”

“Jesus, we’re all going to end up on group skype calls talking about our chiropractors.”

“I have a great chiropractor, I’ll talk about him all the time.”

Richie smiles to himself as he chews. He’s confident, this time, that if he can help it he won’t forget his friends. He will drop everything for group skype calls to talk about chiropractors. Even when Eddie hates him, he’ll do everything to keep the others. Sure, they might all share the collective trauma of the clown shit, but they’re also just the best. And Richie hasn’t had anything like that again in his life. Ever. 

In the silence between them, Richie starts thinking about Eddie again. This seems to be becoming a common recurrence. 

“Risk analysis,” Richie muses out loud.

Eddie scoffs. “Oh, now what the fuck are you on about?”

“Just thinking about you. Analyzing risk,” Richie says. He wonders, to himself, how Eddie would analyze the risk of what he wants to say. 

“It’s a good job. I’m good at it.”

“Explain it to me.” Richie bends his neck to look up at Eddie. From upside down, Eddie’s look of suspicion is still obvious. He rummages through the mango bag instead of answering. “Apologies, dear Edward, but I am a simple jester, I don’t understand office work of like, any capacity.” 

Eddie sighs deeply. “Well, I spend most of my time assessing different data that—“

Richie is already pretending to sleep. 

“You fucker. You fucker. I knew you were going to do that, I knew it, and I still fell for it. Fuck.”

“You didn’t assess the risk, bro! You didn’t analyze the situation!” 

“Analyze this” Eddie shouts, grabbing the pillow next to him and, to be frank, beats the shit out of Richie. 

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry” Richie pleads, and Eddie is out of breath by the time he concedes. Richie pants, trying to recover. “We’re forty years old and you just beat me up with a pillow.”

“You deserved the beating. And stop talking about how old we are. I don’t feel that old! I mean, with your lifestyle you probably feel like you’re eighty, but for—”

“For someone who’s ripped like you? For someone who eats only PetSmart brand rabbit food and raw steak?” Richie gestures wildly, looking only towards the ceiling. “You’re missing out on the three a.m. Taco Bell experience, Eds. The mental breakdown foods. The foods of melancholy.”

“I feel my melancholy just fine while eating gluten free bread.”

Richie sighs, concentrates on a crack in the ceiling. “You know, fucked up as it is, this is like the least melancholic I’ve been since, I dunno. Twenty seven years ago. Last time we beat up a clown.” He sighs. “Maybe clown killing is the only thing that brings me joy.”

“You’ve been a professional comedian for years, Rich.” Eddie seems to get progressively more heated as he continues. “You’ve had a Netflix special, you’ve been on Ellen, Richie! What the fuck? You met Ellen! How could this make you happier than that?”

You, Richie wants to say. But he doesn’t. How does he explain? How does he talk about the loneliness, the thousands of hotel rooms, the nice apartment that doesn’t feel like his own? How does he talk about giving up on writing his own material, about playing Stardew Valley on his iPad every Saturday night for the past six months while his friends go out, about crying in the shower every fucking time? All that time, he never knew what the fuck was up with him. He just knew that he liked to drink, and he liked to make people smile, and that he was deeply flawed in some sort of deep, instinctual way. Every relationship he’d ever had had lasted less than a year. He’d lose interest, mostly. Or he was distant, very distant— he was the Trashmouth they knew at first, but he’s a lot less fun after a while, when alone and still trying to keep up the act. He’d mostly given up on all that, and his career had thanked him for it. And he was gaining traction. And he’d met Ellen. And he’d felt nothing.

Until he got that call from Mike. Until that shot went down like fire and he remembered Eddie Kaspbrak. How does he explain all that

He doesn’t. He asks a question. “Did you watch me on Ellen?”

“Myra had it on,” Eddie defends. “And I didn’t know it was you. You know that. I just happened to watch you on Ellen. And your Netflix special. But that’s because Netflix’s autoplay feature is fucking awful and just starts shit even when you don’t want—”

Richie shakes his head as he laughs. “And? What’d you think?”

“It sucked ass,” Eddie deadpans. Richie’s smile towards the ceiling falls. He thinks Eddie is looking at him, because he keeps going. “I’m kidding. I dunno, what do you want me to do, kiss your ass? I’m your best friend, shouldn't I tell you the truth? It was lowbrow at points, Rich. It was a little Amy Schumer-ish.”

“How fucking dare you say that to me,” Richie says, flipping over onto his stomach and scrunching his nose in disgust even though he’s smiling. “I could outperform Amy Schumer with duct tape over my mouth, and you know it. And lowbrow? I literally go by Trashmouth Tozier. You can kiss my ass, Kaspbrak.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry, learn to take critique,” Eddie says, raising his hands in defense, biting his lip to keep his grin in check.

Richie is already laughing by the time he starts to argue. “You’re a pathetic attempt at a best friend. If you were really my best friend you would have been there, in the Netflix special audience,” He pretends to sob, pointing a finger at Eddie as Eddie cracks up. “—cheering me on and smiling like you’re having the time of your life every time the camera cuts to you in frame.”

“I would have been there!” Eddie says. “If I’d remembered you existed!” 

Richie laughs until he isn’t laughing anymore, and resigns to silently eating another piece of mango, even though he isn’t hungry. Eddie watches him. 

“I would have loved that,” Richie says. “If you were there, for the past twenty seven years, I would have had a much fucking better time.”

Already, his heart is hammering. He’s already eaten half of this bag. And now Eddie is going to hate him and regret ever letting him have any.

“You didn’t really miss me that much.”

Richie scoffs, the first thing that’s really offended him all night. “Fuck you. I didn’t know that I could miss you. But now that we’re all back...I know I did. Everything has always just felt...off. Like, now that I’m here, I think maybe even if I could have just remembered you, I wouldn’t have felt so shitty all the time.”

Eddie is silent. Richie glances up at him as he crosses his arms over his knees, pulling them in tight. Richie remembers him doing that as a kid. He was so small. So introspective, at times. Richie feels like he sees Eddie at thirteen again as he watches the cogs turn in his mind.

“I missed you too,” Eddie says softly, and glances back. Richie can’t keep the eye contact for more than a second before he looks away, blinks down at the comforter. He can’t stand those eyes. The way they looked at him, so big and pleading, as blood dripped down his chin, as he died. Richie’s breath hitches, and he knows that Eddie knows what he’s thinking. “You begged for me not to die,” Eddie says.

He’d said it at the quarry, and now he’s saying again. Almost like he can’t believe it. 

Richie swallows. Clenches his jaw for a moment. This will all be over, so soon. Richie steadies himself, pulls himself so he’s sitting up, cross legged in the middle of the bed, and finally looks back at Eddie.

“I did,” Richie says. “It was the worst. The worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

“I’m sorry,” Eddie whispers. 

“You can’t be sorry, it wasn’t you, Eds. It was IT, who knew, IT fucking knew that that would break me. IT knew how happy I was to have you again, and how fucking heartbroken I would be to...watch that.” Now, Richie. Now, now, now. Fast, like a bandaid. The taste of sugar and mangos hangs heavy on his tongue. He looks up at Eddie, whose eyes are so sad, his lips parted, and Richie will hang onto this moment before the collapse.

“Rich—”

“But watching you die wasn’t really my fear, though.” He swallows, hard. “IT knew, even from when I was a kid, a secret. A dirty little secret. ” He says it, in the voice and everything. He talks fast, his ears beginning to ring, his eyes darting to the floor, to the bed, to the ceiling. “And then, as you were dying there, fucking choking on your own blood, like what the fuck, you asked me to tell you if I’d ever, when we were kids, had a crush on you.” He laughs despite himself. “And you were dying, and I had to, so I told you the secret, I told you the truth, that I hadn’t remembered until I saw you again. And I told you to keep holding on, to stay here, with me. To please not fucking die. Because I still. I still had that crush, even now. Still had that secret. That I like, big time like you. Love you. And then you died anyway. And all I’d done was said the secret out loud. And it didn’t matter at all, because I’d waited too long, and it was too late and you died anyway.” He’s crying. Fuck, he really is, he really is crying. Richie wipes his hands across his face, and fails to steady his breathing. It’s over. It’s over. “But it wasn’t you, of course. It was IT.” Richie struggles, smiles behind the hands over his eyes. “And IT laughed in my face and chased me and I kicked IT in the head. But, I guess IT got what it wanted out of me. I was so, so fucking scared. And I have been.” 

He doesn’t want to uncover his eyes. This really is going to break his heart, whether he wants to acknowledge that or not, when he sees Eddie’s face. But he does, and he blinks, bleary eyed.

“Richie.”

Richie forms a tight-lipped smile, braces for it. “Mhm?”

Eddie opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Richie keeps the tight smile, knowing his eyes betray it all. Eddie lets go of his legs, gets on his knees, and crawls over to where Richie is sitting. And then he sits down too, next to him, bracing his weight on one arm and leaning his legs against Richie’s. And then lets his head fall against Richie’s chest. Eddie must hear his heart pounding, but he doesn’t say anything. Richie waits for the inevitable. Instead, Eddie lifts his other arm and presses a hand to Richie’s chest, bending him back until Richie gets the idea and lies down, stretching his legs out so that his feet bump the headboard, and Eddie adjusts his head so it’s against Richie’s chest as he lies there, curled up against him. Richie just breathes. They both do.

“I love you,” Richie says, just to cement it. Just to put that final nail in his coffin. If Eddie didn’t hear it the first time, he did now.

“I know,” Eddie says. “You just said that. Can’t you be quiet for one full minute?”

“Shit, okay,” Richie says, and he resigns himself to lie there, head empty, which is impossible. “But like, I really love you in a gay way, and now you’re cuddling me, so I don’t want you to think I’m just saying I love you in a friendship way. Like, if you’re gonna kick me out of your room, do it. I’m ready for it. I really don’t want a pity friendship cuddle right now.”

“Jesus, you are unbearable.” Eddie lifts his head and looks up at Richie. From this close, his eyelashes are thick, the worry lines around his cheeks prominent even when he’s not frowning. “You always were so, so, unbearably irritating. I’m so disappointed that hasn’t changed.” He inches up so he’s leaning on his elbows, looking down at Richie’s face. He reaches out and rubs a finger along Richie’s jaw, playing with his stubble. Richie swallows.

“You have to stop fucking with me, man. Like, I’m actually, legitimately in love with you. This is like torture to me.” 

Eddie looks at him incredulously, and then rolls his eyes to high heavens. “Fucking fuck, Richie! Who the hell would do this to a friend!? Do you live your whole life this clueless? How are you alive? You‘re so fucking...you... fuck.” Eddie looks down at him, and fear flashes across his eyes. It’s the last thing Richie sees before Eddie’s lips crash into his and Richie’s eyes close on instinct.

It’s a clumsy kiss— Eddie’s tongue creeps out after only seconds and Richie makes an audible noise of surprise, which causes Eddie to make an audible noise of confusion, all while the kissing continues. Richie is losing it, really losing it, this dream fucking rules. He reaches up to touch a hand to Eddie’s face, lifts his head up from the bed up to kiss back harder, Eddie’s tongue soft against his, and everything tasting like fucking mango. Richie is focused on the feeling of it, but also mostly because he is just internally yelling very loudly instead of thinking. 

Richie keeps sitting up further, still kissing back as he props himself up on his elbows, Eddie’s hands on both sides of his face, suddenly straddling him with both legs. Richie sits up all the way, and grabs at Eddie’s back, fisting his hands in those grandpa pajamas and finally having his first coherent thought: these are actually really fucking soft. 

All too soon, they’re out of breath, and Eddie leans back so he’s kneeling, eyes locked on Richie and looking all sorts of nervous as he breathes. Richie can’t help himself as he darts forward and goes for his neck, his glasses bumping against Eddie’s chin before he gets a good angle, and he presses soft and lingering kisses one by one to Eddie’s throat as he attempts to catch his breath. 

“Okay, you got me. I love you, you fucking freak,” Eddie says, breathless.

Richie pulls back, eyes half closed and chest burning. “I would have kissed your neck a long time ago if I knew that’s all it takes.”

Eddie shoves him away.

“Fucking...shut up.” Eddie pulls his pajama shirt back into place where it had shifted to the side. “I’ve loved you, Richie. Of course I did. Of course I do. I just. Tried not to think about it. You know how I am.” Richie does know how he is. But he didn’t think that also applied to loving him. Eddie’s cheeks are flushed, and he just stares at Richie for a moment. “Jesus. I’ve never even kissed a guy.”

“You did okay,” Richie answers, and Eddie lazily flips him off. Richie cocks his head. “How was I?”

“Dirty,” Eddie says. Richie raises an eyebrow. “Like, physically fucking dirty. Did you brush your teeth tonight?”

“Of course, yeah,” Richie says, but to be honest, he doesn’t remember. They simply watch each other, and for the first time, Richie isn’t afraid. “Fuck. Come here,” Richie says just when he realizes he can, and Eddie obliges, lifting his hand to cradle Richie’s face again. Richie kisses him once, hoping Eddie understands how much his heart is aching, before he ghosts their lips together a few times, just reveling in the pain. “I don’t think you can even know how happy I am,” he says against Eddie’s lips. “That you didn’t kick me out. That you didn’t die.”

Eddie collapses into him at that, clutching at his neck and kissing him once, hard, before pressing his face into Richie’s shoulder.

“Fuck you, Richie. Fuck, fuck you.” He breathes. “I’m sorry.” Richie feels his breath stutter against him. “I’m sorry. Fuck, I’m so sorry and so mad, and so happy that we fucking killed IT after you...had to…” Eddie shakes his head, his words running out of their usual steam. “We lost all that time. We lost all that fucking time. I’m so sorry...that I wasn’t at your Netflix special.” And that’s what finally gets Eddie to break, and Richie feels him holding his breath, trying to hold it in.

“Hey, Eds. Hey.” He rubs circles on Eddie’s back until Richie feels him crying. He lets Eddie hold onto him. He’s still so small, fits so well against him. When Eddie pulls back and apologizes profusely Richie keeps his eyes right on him, smoothing his hair back in long strokes until he’s just petting him. Eddie relaxes, shaking breaths calming, and he leans forward into Richie’s chest. “You can be at the next Netflix special,” Richie says gently. “And the next and the next, because I’m a very successful comedian, and there’s nowhere to go but up.” Eddie groans, fondly, into Richie’s chest.

 

Ten minutes later they’re kissing again, because they can’t help it. At least Richie can’t help it, feeling drunk on relief and the feeling of Eddie against him. It’s honestly just too good to be true, but he did kill IT, so he’ll trust this Eddie. For now.

Eddie pulls away, and Richie opens his eyes to Eddie’s pupils blown huge. “I love you,” he says. Richie stares back at him, the burning in him dimming to a warmth that spreads all the way to his fingertips that he brushes across Eddie’s cheek. “I meant it before, of course I did.” Eddie says. “But I need you to know. Back then, I did. When we were kids. And when you banged that fucking gong and announced your presence, I did. And when you hugged me, in the lair, and when you came to my door at two in the morning. All that time. Know that.”

For once in his life, Richie cannot say anything at all. 

 

They fall asleep on top of the covers, limbs tangled through one another, Richie fully embracing how soft Eddie’s old man pajamas are against him. Eddie’s head is tucked into Richie’s neck, and Richie’s glasses are on the bedside table, and the bathroom light is still on. They’ve been lying there, simply breathing, for a few minutes, after a conversation on the best flavor of La Croix had faded into nothingness. 

Before they fall asleep, Eddie whispers into his neck.

“In the morning, if you wake up before me, don’t leave.” Richie sleepily smiles at the blurry outline of pill bottles on the bedside table.

“I won’t.”