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Wild and Weary

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Richie could swear it gets five degrees colder in his dining room after Eddie makes his suggestion.

"What, like a seance?" Bill is probably trying to sound dismissive, but he just sounds nervous. It's no more far-fetched than anything else they've seen and done together.

"Yeah, dickhead, like a seance," Eddie says defensively. "You have a better idea?"

"And what if something that's not Stan shows up, huh?" Mike asks. "What if that's just inviting It to come back and fuck with us?" He's tense, bordering on angry, and Richie knows he's thinking about his parents. There are so many strings that It can pull, so many ways into their hearts. Why offer It an open door?

But even as Richie considers the dangers, his mind is skipping past them, racing with joy at the thought of talking to Stan again. Joy and relief, because the first thing Richie is going to say is "Stan, I am so sorry," and even if Stan rejects his apology, at least he'll hear it.

Richie shouldn't have forgotten about Stan. Stan shouldn't have died afraid and alone. It doesn't matter that magic amnesia was involved; Richie wasn't there, and it's fucking wrong. He doesn't need forgiveness, he just needs Stan to know how sorry he is. There's nothing he wouldn't risk for the chance to apologize. He loves Eddie for suggesting it. He already loved Eddie infinitely, with every molecule of him, but infinity is ever-expanding and he can always love Eddie more.

"We have to do it," he says. "Stan can help us." He doesn't know whether the second part is true, but if Stan doesn't have the answer, they'll figure something else out. The first thing they have to do, the thing he needs to do so badly he's almost shaking, is talk to Stan.

"Is that--" Bev presses her lips together. "Is that kind?"

"Kind?" The question seems to baffle Eddie as much as it does Richie.

"I just mean, well." Bev is speaking slowly, carefully, but her hands are clenched together on the table, squeezing her knuckles white. "Stan chose… not to come back. He chose not to be a part of this. Maybe it's not fair to…"

"Fuck that," says Richie. "He was scared. He wasn't thinking straight. He would want to be here with us."

Beverly has tears in her eyes when she looks up at him. "I hate it too, Richie," she says. "I hate the decision he made. But it was his decision, and maybe… maybe we need to respect that."

"No," says Richie, but Bill cuts him off.

"There's no way," he says. "It's too dangerous. We're not messing with summoning the dead. We might think we're talking to Stan until… until it's too late."

"So you're fine with just kicking back and forgetting about all of us?" Richie spits. "Fine, better safe than sorry, no reason to risk anything for the sake of your friends who almost fucking died for you, twice--" He's not sure where all this anger is coming from, but suddenly he's seething. After dragging them all into this to begin with, Bill wants to turn around and start exercising caution now? How can he care so little about preserving the bond between them?

But of course, Bill has Audra. Everyone and everything Richie loves in the world is either right here in this room, or lying in some funeral home in Georgia. The others would all be fine without him, he realizes. Ben and Bev with their prestigious careers, Mike with his plans to travel the world. Even Eddie has found his way into and out of one marriage already, and if Richie disappeared from his life tomorrow, Eddie could start over with someone new. If they forget him, everyone else will be fine, but Richie will be left with nothing at all.

It burns. It's humiliating, to realize how much he needs them all, so much more than they need him. He takes his glasses off and swipes away angry tears.

"Don't be an asshole, Richie. That's not what I'm saying," says Bill. "I want to fix this just as much as you do. All I said is that's not how we're gonna do it. We have to come up with a different plan."

"This is the fucking plan," Richie says.

Everyone else is silent, staring from Richie to Bill and back, and Richie thinks wildly of when they were kids and Bill punched him in the face. Richie deserved it then and he probably deserves it now, but Bill just shoves back his chair in disgust and storms out of the room. Giving Richie a baleful look, Mike stands up and goes after him.

"God dammit," says Richie, and drops his head down on the table. Eddie lays a tentative hand on his shoulder, as if he half expects Richie to shrug him off, but instead Richie grabs Eddie's hand in his own and clings to it shamelessly.

"You okay, Richie?" Ben asks.

Richie lifts his head. "No, obviously I'm a shithead."

"Yeah, we know, but are you okay?" says Eddie.

"It was your idea," Richie says. "I was just backing you up."

"Dude, I can stand up for myself," says Eddie, "which I think you fucking know. It's not gonna kill me if Bill thinks my idea sucks."

Richie knows, and he knows that's not why he got so upset, but he can't find the words for the real reason.

"No one's giving up," says Bev. "I think Bill is right to be cautious. We can't just risk everything on the first idea someone throws out there. We'll keep thinking and come up with a plan we're all okay with."

Richie nods, but not because he agrees. He's just done arguing about it. Let the rest of them brainstorm until they run out of momentum and lose their grasp on each other. Richie knows what he needs to do.

Eventually Mike prods Bill back into the dining room, where he and Richie half-ass their apologies. No one is in the mood to keep the meeting going, so they make plans to get together again in two days and hug their goodbyes. As pissed as he is at Bill, Richie still wraps his arms around him tight, pressing the smaller man's head into his chest.

I love you so much, you asshole, he thinks fiercely. I'm not letting you leave me behind again.

"Well, that went terribly," Richie announces cheerfully as the door closes on Ben and Beverly.

Mike sighs. "You know, you didn't have to jump down Bill's throat like that."

"If I were going to jump down a straight guy's throat, I think I could do better than Bill," Richie says, but it's mostly reflex. His mind is elsewhere. "Look, I'm sorry I fucked things up. This is why I shouldn't be in charge. People look at me, I say stupid shit. It's my only marketable skill."

"That's my boyfriend you're talking about, fuckface," says Eddie. "Also, nobody said you were in charge."

"Who else is gonna be, if it's not me and you, Eds?" Richie wants so badly to reach out for Eddie, to be touched, held, but instead he curls his shoulders inward, self-protective. He's the one who made everyone mad; he can't ask Eddie to comfort him. "No one else is even going to remember who I am in a few days. I don't-- I know Bev says not to rush, but I don't know how much time we have."

Eddie goes to him without being asked. He threads his arms through Richie's and pulls him close. "They're not going to forget you."

"They did once. You did." He knows it's not fair--he forgot them all, too, so why does he feel it so personally? Maybe because he always expected it, always expected to slip through the cracks, to be left behind. To disappear.

What are you afraid of, Richie?

But Eddie says, "I might not have remembered you, but I never forgot you."

"The fuck," Richie murmurs into Eddie's hair. "Is this a riddle?"

"No, asshole. I just… always knew there was something missing, even if I couldn't say what. There was always a hole. Don't you dare make a dick joke," he adds before Richie can even open his mouth. "Everyone I was with, even when I was with Myra, I'd think 'this isn't quite as good.' But I could never think what it wasn't as good as, so I convinced myself it was just a fantasy, just me having unrealistic expectations." He tips his head back and looks up at Richie. "Even when I couldn't remember you, no one else could compare."

"I'm not sure I need to be part of this conversation," Mike says. "Maybe I'll go for a walk."

Richie is about to snark a reply, but Eddie cuts him off. "You know what, I think we could stand to get some fresh air," he says. "You hang out here, Mikey. We'll give you some space."

Richie follows Eddie out to the car. Without discussion, he heads for the passenger seat so Eddie can drive. "Do you want to go get a drink?" he suggests, even though it's like noon.

"Nah," says Eddie, and doesn't elaborate. Richie accepts it and leans his forehead against the window, watching the city go by. Eddie seems to be making turns at random, just putting distance between them and the house, and soon they're in a neighborhood Richie doesn't recognize. It's commercial, but run down; the storefronts are faded, some standing empty, paint flaking in the sun.

Eddie pulls into a parking spot. "We're here," he announces.

"Here" is an old Victorian house on a small square of dead grass. A sign hanging from the dilapidated awning says "Blue Moon Metaphysical Books." Richie stares. Has Eddie come here by some preternatural instinct, following whatever weird sense of direction has guided him since they were young?

Eddie rolls his eyes at Richie's confused expression. "I googled occult bookstores," he explains. "I don't know how to hold a seance, and I'm guessing you don't either."

"Why?"

"Because I remember the look you get when someone tells you not to do something and you're gonna do it the second they're not looking," says Eddie. "I can't stop you from being stupid, but I can make sure you're not alone."

Richie swallows tears. He gets out of the car and walks around to the driver's side, opening the door for Eddie. Then he pulls Eddie out and into his arms, crushing their mouths together in a kiss. Eddie's hands come up to Richie's cheeks, and he kisses back with all the feeling Richie's afraid to put into words.

Richie wraps his arms around Eddie's lower back and squeezes so hard he nearly lifts Eddie off his feet. "I love you," he whispers as their lips part. "Thanks for being stupid with me."

Inside, the store smells like dust, mildew, and patchouli. It's unpleasant, but at the same time oddly comforting. The shelves are too close together, arranged haphazardly with few right angles or clear, straight paths. Among the books are smeary glass cases with a strange assortment of items inside: a stone bowl, a knife with an ornate handle, what looks like a jar full of broken seashells.

"What are we looking for?" Richie asks.

"I don't know," says Eddie. The books are mostly used and don't appear to be organized according to any system Richie can discern. He finds a deck of cards that look almost normal, except each face card has the head of a drooling hyena. Ugh. Next to that is a book on medicinal herbs, then one called The Realm of Love: A Guide to Astral Sex.

"Hey, Eds," he says, grabbing The Realm of Love and holding it up. "Should we take up a new hobby?"

Eddie makes a face like he's trying not to laugh, which is only a little bit hot, Richie tells himself. "Get your head out of your astral, Tozier. We have an actual goal here."

A glint catches Richie's eye. On a high shelf that he almost hadn't noticed, a crystal figurine of a turtle prisms what little sunlight has managed to infiltrate the store into rainbows.

The rainbows dance on the cover of a book, tucked in by itself beside the turtle. It's bound in blue leather so dark that the black ink of the title is barely visible. But when Richie grabs the book and brings it down to eye level, he can see it clearly.

Guidance from the Dead.