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Slow down, you crazy child

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Richie is sixteen years old, and he’s happy, he thinks, for the most part. 

He’s happy for the moment, at least, walking shoulder to shoulder with Eddie down the sidewalk overlooking Bassey Park. His hair is wet from their rendezvous with Bill and Stan at the quarry earlier that afternoon, but the sun is still high in the sky and the day is hot, so he doesn’t really mind, even if he does feel a little damp in his clothes.

Eddie had begged off from the group early, citing a prescription he’d needed to pick up at the pharmacy before it closed, and Richie had offered to go with him. He’d said he’d wanted a soda, but really he’d just wanted an excuse to walk Eddie home.

“Want some Razzles?” Richie asks, pulling them out of the side pocket of his backpack, popping one into his mouth.

“Razzles are for kids,” Eddie says, watching Richie as he swings around to walk backward, facing Eddie now.

“Exactly,” Richie says, grinning widely at Eddie, chewing with his mouth open.

“Gross,” Eddie says, but he’s smiling. He holds his hand up and Richie shakes a few out. 

They come up on the pharmacy and Richie stops short, just out of view of the counter behind the large window. Eddie walks forward a few more steps before he realizes Richie is no longer beside him. 

He turns back to Richie, looks at him impatiently, “You coming?”

“No can do, Eds.” 

“Don’t-” Eddie groans, rolls his eyes. “Why?

“Keene hates me, man.”

Eddie’s nose scrunches up in confusion. Cute, cute, cute, Richie thinks, distantly. 

“You remember the last day of school, Greta walking around with that huge stain on her dress? That was chocolate milk, courtesy of, uh, me. Apparently she told her dad—I didn’t even know pharmacies had blacklists.”

Richie doesn’t regret it. He knows that Greta was the one who wrote SLUT across Bev’s locker the day before in big, ugly letters. She had it coming. Eddie knows this too, but he still glares at him.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that? I suppose I’m buying you the soda, then?”

And Richie doesn’t care much about the soda really, but he’s enjoying the annoyed look that’s unfurling on Eddie’s face, so he just smiles innocently at him and says, “Yes, please.”

Eddie watches Richie, and Richie watches Eddie’s eyes flicker down to Richie’s mouth. Richie’s heart speeds up for a second.

“Your entire fucking mouth is red, man. How do you even manage that?”

Richie blinks at him, hand squeezing around the pack of Razzles still in his hand. He adjusts his glasses and his heart resumes its steady pace. 

Richie pouts at Eddie, puckering his lips, “How do I look, though?”

“Like an asshole,” Eddie tells him.

Richie grins at him, “That’s not what your mother said last-”

“Fuck off, Richie.”

Richie grins at him, and then his gaze zeroes in on a spot on Eddie’s face, lips pursed. Eddie’s eyes widen, “No, no, no-” But Richie darts forward before Eddie can get away, grabs his shoulders and smacks a wet kiss against his cheek. He leaves a red, sugary smudge and reaches a hand up to pinch it for good measure, but Eddie pushes him roughly away.

“Ugh, you owe me, dickwad,” Eddie says, face red, wiping his cheek clean with his shoulder. 

“Arrivederci!” Richie calls out as Eddie walks back toward the store.

“Yeah, yeah, au revoir, asshole,” Eddie says, flipping him off. He pushes through the door, disappearing into the pharmacy.

Richie retreats a few steps and smiles down at his feet, scuffs his toe against the asphalt. He doesn’t notice the shadow looming over him until it’s too late.

What follows is painfully predictable, Richie thinks. You could easily pluck the small-town bully role from any number of hokey high school films and stand him in front of Richie, sneering insults at him, and it’d have the same effect. The vocabulary is especially tired, Richie thinks, as he’s called faggot for what feels like the hundredth time. 

It’s not quite the usual brand of asshole, though. There’d been a number of guys who were happy to take up the mantle when Bowers was put away three years earlier, but this guy and his friends aren’t one of them. Richie thinks he recognizes him from his math class, maybe . And that makes it worse, somehow. That someone Richie barely knows can see it, that they know what he is. Like it’s branded across his fucking forehead. 

He thinks about running, would run, except Eddie is still inside the pharmacy and Richie knows that if he manages to get away, they might turn their attention onto him.

And then they’re talking about Eddie, like they can read his mind, or just saw his eyes dart nervously toward the shop. They call Eddie a number of ugly names, and before Richie really knows what he’s doing, his fist is swinging forward. He gets in one good hit and it feels fucking gorgeous, even despite the sharp ache in his knuckles. But then there’s pain blooming across his jaw, and his glasses fly off his face, and it’s over before it really starts.

The guy’s friends hold Richie’s arms behind his back while he gets in a few extra shots to really drive the point home. As if Richie had any doubt about what they think of him. Then they’re looking over their shoulders nervously, like someone’s going to stop them. Like it matters, Richie thinks. No one notices anything in Derry. And it’s true, though he doesn’t remember why he knows it is.

And then, almost as soon as they came, they’re gone. Skipping down the street and around the corner, clasping each other’s shoulders and laughing all the way.

Richie slides down the wall of brick behind him, collapsing gracelessly. He reaches over and tentatively picks up his glasses, glad to see they’re not broken at least, when Eddie exits the shop.

He gets one good look at Richie and then he’s on his knees in front of him, Richie’s soda sweating condensation onto the sidewalk beside him. 

“Richie, what happened?”

Richie gingerly slides his glasses back onto his face. Eddie swims into focus, staring at him with wide, worried eyes. He raises a hand slowly to Richie’s face, like he’s going to touch his cheek, and Richie flinches away. 

The look on Eddie’s face and the proximity to his own makes his stomach clench.

“Just some asshole got tired of looking at my face, I guess,” Richie deflects. He smiles at Eddie, teeth bared, then realizes he can taste iron in his mouth, and let’s the smile drop. “Took it upon himself to rearrange it for me.”

“That’s not funny, Rich,” Eddie tells him, eyebrows furrowed. Richie stares out at a spot over Eddie’s shoulder.

“C’mon,” Eddie says. “Let’s go back to yours, I’ll clean you up.”

He grabs Richie’s hand and Richie jerks roughly out of his grasp.

“Don’t fucking touch me, Eddie.”

Richie rises to his feet suddenly and Eddie stumbles backwards, catching himself on one hand, then rises unsteadily too.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Richie can’t explain the tight feeling in his chest or the shake in his hands, couldn’t find the words if he wanted to. He’s just so fucking sick of this small town and all the small people in it. He’s known what he is, been painfully aware of it since he was eleven years old and wanted nothing more in the world than to make Eddie Kaspbrak laugh. And that could have been alright, maybe, he could have lived with the knowing, except that ever since then, it’s like the whole town has known too. And they’ve never let him forget it.

He clenches his hands into fists against the tremors there.

“Just- just fuck off, Eddie,” he says, not looking at him. And then he bolts.

Richie runs as fast as his legs can carry him. He knows Eddie will try to follow him, thinks he probably will, anyway, and Eddie is fast, but Richie’s legs are longer and he’s got a head start. The wind bites against his face where his skin is split, and his lungs ache, but it grounds him, at least, enough to realize where his feet are carrying him. He’d thought he had been running aimlessly, until he’s coming up on the Kissing Bridge and of course this is where he’s ended up, of fucking course.

The carving he’d etched three summers prior looms up ugly in front of him and he collapses beside it. He spits blood on the ground and stares at the etching in the wood, hating himself for it. Richie punches at it, once, with the heel of his palm. He feels tears cloud his eyes and lets out a shaky breath. He leans his forehead against the letters and feels like he can’t breathe. He thinks, stupidly, of the inhaler Eddie hasn’t carried in years, and laughs wetly. Then he rolls his head, twists around, and collapses with his back against the bridge.

Richie doesn’t know what he was thinking when he’d carved those letters. Or rather, he doesn’t know what stupid courage possessed him to actually do it. He doesn’t know if carving it into the wood was meant to make it less real or more. If he’d wanted to carve it into the wood and leave it there behind him. As if it would be that easy, as if it wouldn’t follow him. Or if he meant to put it there for everyone to see, to say, You were right. I am everything you think I am, see?

And it’s not Eddie’s fault, of course it’s not. It’s Richie. It’s Richie who can’t control his feelings, Richie who can’t look at Eddie without wanting, and it’s Richie who has to end this, now. Because what exactly has he been playing at, all this time? Every compliment couched in laughter, every lingering look. Every touch he’s selfishly taken from Eddie—Eddie, who hadn’t even known what he’d been giving. 

Enough, Richie tells himself.

Ignoring it hadn’t worked, was never going to work, Richie knows. So maybe this is all that’s left. And maybe it will work this time. Maybe if he starves the flame, he’ll finally be able to snuff it out.

Richie grimaces and his face smarts. He remembers, dimly, the last time he’d felt his cheek ache like this, just under the eye socket. It was the fight with Bill, when they were thirteen, forever ago. He can’t- can’t quite remember what it was they had fought about, but for some reason he thinks it was about Eddie. Because of course it had to have been about Eddie.

He doesn’t know what precisely makes him think of it, but Ben’s words from that afternoon come floating back to him, dreamily.

I’ll be forty and far away from here.

Richie closes his eyes, thuds his head back against the bridge and the letters he carved there, and he wishes desperately for it. For a future far away from Derry, far away from this rotten place with all its rotten people.

I’ll be forty and far away from here.

Forty and far away from here.

Forty and far away from here.

The words hum through Richie’s mind, sluggish and slow, until they’re the only thing left. Until Richie’s breath evens out in drowsy exhalations. Because there’s still magic left in Derry, not all of it bad. 

Richie loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, everything is different.

--

Richie is sixteen years old, and he doesn’t know where the fuck he is.

He wakes up in a bed that’s not his, in a room that he doesn’t recognize, feeling foggy, like his mind’s been stretched out thin then lumped back together again, deposited haphazardly back into his head.

He reaches out blindly and thankfully finds his glasses resting atop the night stand. They’re on his face when he realizes that they’re not actually his glasses, not really. They’re newer and smaller, the lenses decidedly thinner, and there’s no tape wrapped around the bow. They’re his prescription though, or at least they work when he puts them on, and the glasses themselves kind of take a back seat once he gets them on and realizes that he truly has no idea where the fuck he is.

The room is large and nice-looking and wholly unfamiliar to Richie.

The decor is nice enough, but doesn’t really do much to clue him in. The bed is the focal point of the room, large and centered against the interior wall. Tall windows frame the wall opposite. They’re covered with dark, heavy curtains, but bright sunlight filters through at the edges. There’s what looks like a TV affixed to the wall, nestled between the windows and larger than Richie’s ever seen in someone’s home, and flat too. Richie wonders if it’s built into the wall somehow, but his mind stutters past that thought, eyes too busy roaming. There are two doors on the wall to his right. One’s a closet, he can see for the way the door’s left ajar, and the other appears to be an ensuite bathroom, which Richie can tell from the sound of the shower he’s just noticed is running inside.

He sits up fast, then squeezes his eyes shut against the vertigo. He stumbles out of the bed, away from the bathroom door, retreating toward the door on the opposite wall. 

“Mom? Dad?”

His feet tangle in something and he looks down to see, absurdly, a pair of red shorts. They look almost like the ones Eddie used to wear, the ones that drove him fucking crazy from the age of thirteen onward, and he has no idea what the hell they’re doing here, with him.

“Eds?” Richie whisper-calls, feeling stupid. He’s met with silence.

He kicks the shorts away and stumbles out of the room, feeling off-balance somehow, like his center of gravity has shifted. He wonders dimly if he’s been drugged, and then thinks that he’s definitely been drugged because he’d stumbled out of the bedroom into a short hallway and is confronted with his reflection in the mirror hung there.

Except that it isn’t his reflection in the mirror.

The person staring back at him is- well, he’s old. Like, mid-thirties at least, probably older. There’s lines around his mouth and eyes, and his hairline is definitely creeping upward. He’s not wearing a shirt and the mirror isn’t so tall that he can see the full picture, but Richie can tell that his chest is well-defined, his arms strong beneath broad shoulders. There’s dark hair dusted across his chest that continues down his torso, past the frame of the mirror. Richie brings a hand up to the glass, and the not-reflection mimics him, and that’s when Richie notices that the hand he’d raised is not his hand. He looks down at his own body and like the bed and the room before it, he doesn’t recognize what he sees.

A broken sound escapes his lips and he slaps his hand to his mouth. Then he pulls his hand away, looks at it again, and slaps it back in place before his mouth gets any smart ideas.

“What the fuck,” he says against his not-hand.

He tears his eyes away from the mirror and runs away from it, down the short hallway and out into a living room. It’s decorated much the same way as the bedroom, nice enough but lacking any real personality, though Richie’s mind doesn’t care much to take in his surroundings until his gaze lands on a pile of mail on the coffee table in the center of the room. He dives toward it, nearly upending the plant that’s sitting next to it. 

He finds his name on the front of the letters, on all the letters- Richard Tozier, Richard Tozier, Richard Tozier, again and again.

I live here, he thinks dumbly.

He is swept with the memory, suddenly, of himself not so long ago (or, he thinks a little hysterically, maybe a very long time ago) looking at a missing poster with his own face on it.

That’s my face. That’s my name.

The thought is gone as soon as it comes.

He drops the letters back onto the table and is thinking that he kind of wants to throw up when the tinny sound of the Talking Heads rings through the house abruptly. 

Watch out, you might get what you're after…

Richie looks around wildly, trying to pinpoint the sound. It’s coming from the bedroom, he thinks, and he eyes the open door warily. He follows the sound down the hallway again, holding his hand up to block his view of the mirror as he passes it, and just as he makes it into the bedroom, the song abruptly cuts off.

Richie deflates and sits down at the edge of the bed. He puts his head in his hands and tries not to think about how they don’t belong to him.

“It’s not real, this is a dream. This is a really weird dream…” 

He pushes his glasses up on his head and presses the heels of his hands firmly against his eyes until spots of color bloom against his closed eyelids. He bites the inside of his cheek, hard, and when he doesn’t wake up, he bites down still harder.

This isn’t real, he tells himself again, and while he does, he doesn’t notice the person padding softly out of the bathroom behind him.

Warm arms loop around his chest and Richie nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Woah, woah! What the fuck, dude?” He exclaims, whirling around, jumping to his feet.

There’s a guy on his bed, eyes wide and an amused smile on his face, hands held up in easy surrender. He’s also naked, a fact which Richie’s mind is desperately trying to process.

Oh, my god,” he whispers under his breath, averting his eyes.

“Relax, Rich,” the guy laughs, and so, okay, he knows him, that’s good. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack, old man.”

Richie laughs a little wildly at that, eyes darting between the ceiling and the guy’s face and decidedly no where else.

“What, no pithy comeback?” The guy asks, unimpressed. He sits up on his knees and shuffles over to Richie. Richie knows he should move, knows he should put as much space between himself and this guy as possible, but finds that his legs have turned into entirely uncooperative jelly. The guy puts his hands on Richie’s shoulders, leaning into his space. “I really thought I tired you out the first time, but I could still go for round two. Help you really relax.”

Static clouds Richie’s ears. He feels like there’s nothing in his head but loose wires.

“Want me to put the shorts back on?” The guy whispers against his ear, “I know how much you like them.”

Richie’s body finally, finally gets with the program and he jerks away.

“Listen, asshole-”

“Hey, that’s not what you called me earlier,” the guy wags his eyebrows at him, smirking. Richie feels nauseous. “Sweet Bottom, that’s a new one."

The high-pitched, choked sound that Richie makes at that is, thankfully, mostly covered by the opening lines of Burning Down the House filling the room again. He looks around wildly, hisses, “Where the fuck is that coming from?”

The guy eyes him strangely, says, “Uh, your phone?” 

He picks something up off the nightstand, something that definitely does not resemble a telephone, and hands it to Richie.

Richie takes it from him gingerly, then stares dumbly at it. There’s no context in his brain for what he’s looking at, no way to make sense of what he’s seeing. The thing is just one big screen, no buttons or speaker or anything that even slightly resembles a telephone. There’s a name at the top of the screen, Steve, and the song does indeed seem to be emitting from the thing, though Richie can’t tell where the sound is coming from. 

Here's your ticket, pack your bags, time for jumping overboard...

“You gonna answer?” The guys asks, glancing up at Richie bemused while he, thank fucking god, pulls on a pair of boxer briefs.

“Uh,” Richie says. He squints down at the phone that doesn’t look like a phone and prods at the green circle at the bottom of the screen, feeling stupid. That seems to do something though, because all of a sudden there’s a voice yelling at him.

“You better be on your fucking way, Tozier, you were supposed to be here ten minutes ago.”

“Uh,” Richie says again, smartly. 

“You haven’t left yet, have you, asshole? Lucy is already on her way, if you’re not in that car in five minutes, so help me-”

The line cuts off abruptly. Call ended blinks up at Richie from the screen in his hand.

He looks up and finds that the guy is now standing directly in front of him.

“Rain check on round two then, I guess,” he says and leans toward Richie, arms moving up like they’re going to wrap around his neck. Richie twists away and ducks under his arms, letting out a strangled “Heh! Yeah!” and stumbles over to an armchair in the corner. He struggles out of the sweats he’s wearing and pulls on the jeans and faded Disintegration t-shirt he finds there, hoping that they’re his.

The phone comes to life in his hand again, this time the name Lucy appears on the screen. Richie presses the green circle again.

“Hello?”

“Rich, I’m here, come outside. Steve is having a fucking conniption and I can’t be on the butt end of one of his hissy fits today, I just can’t.”

“Uh, yeah, yes. I will- I will be right there, I just have to- find my shoes...”

“Please do. And Rich?”

“Yeah?”

“A little urgency? Please?”

The line goes dead.

The guy walks over to him again, a determined look on his face, like he’s not letting Richie get away from him this time. Richie watches his approach like a deer caught in headlights. The guy leans forward, intention clear. Richie turns his face at the last second, and the kiss lands at the corner of his mouth. Richie’s stomach swoops and his entire face lights up bright red. 

The guy leans away, appraising him, “Okay, well. I’ll call you when I’m in town again, I guess.”

“Okay,” Richie squeaks, and breathes again when the guy steps out of his space. 

Richie skirts around him, staying close to the wall, and tries for a smile, landing somewhere closer to a grimace. He hurries down the hallway and hears, “Break a leg, funnyman,” called out behind him.

He leaves the phone on the coffee table, grabs a set of keys he finds in a bowl there, and shoves his feet into the first pair of shoes he sees at the door. Richie steps out of the house. It’s blindingly bright and ridiculously hot. He leans against the door, breathes in and out, once, then again, and then keeps going, feeling like no small feat.

He makes his way slowly down a set of stairs at the side of the house and comes out around the corner of a modest two-car garage. There’s a sleek black car waiting in the street, windows tinted dark. He approaches it slowly- too slow, apparently, because the back door opens in front of him and a snippy voice calls out, “Move it, Tozier, let’s go!”

Richie hesitates. 

A head pops out of the car and glares at him. The snippy voice belongs to an uptight-looking woman. Lucy, his mind reminds him. She’s got dark red hair that’s pulled up into a tight ponytail and Richie immediately thinks of Bev when he sees her, heart aching a little in his chest.

“Can you get in the car?” She asks impatiently.

“I don’t get in the car with strangers,” he blurts out, frenzied.

“Is this a bit? Is this a joke? ‘Cause it’s not funny, Richie. Can you please just get in the car?”

Richie thinks about the alternative, thinks about returning to Sweet Bottom upstairs, and quickly folds himself into the car, still feeling awkwardly unused to his long limbs. 

Lucy looks him over, eyebrow raised. “This a new look you’re trying out for tour? Depressed teenager?”

Richie lets out a strangled laugh.

“I would avoid Steve as much as possible, when we get there. He’s especially, uh, twitchy today,” she tells him, turning her attention to the phone in her hand.

“Who’s Steve?” He asks, because fuck it, this isn’t his life, not really, who cares if he sounds insane.

“You drink too much,” Lucy mutters, giving him a look out of the corner of her eye. “Steve! Your manager.”

Richie nods like that makes any sense to him at all. And then, hey, in for a penny…

“Lucy, I’m gonna ask you a couple questions that might sound, uh, strange, but if you could just overlook the weirdness for the next, like, five minutes, that’d be awesome.”

The look she’d been side-eyeing him with is now turned on him full force.

“I’m your assistant, Richie, you pay me to answer all the weird questions you want.”

Assistant, okay, that’s- that’s cool.

“Right, um. What, uh- what year is it?”

“Is this another bit?”

Richie waves his hand impatiently, “It’s not a- Just, the question? Please?”

Lucy sighs, “It’s 2016, Richie.”

Richie lets out a panicked “Ha!” and snaps his mouth closed, eyes wide. He pushes a long breath out against his gritted teeth.

“Right, okay. Um.” Focus, Rich, he tells himself. Relevant details. “And where are we going?”

Lucy is definitely starting to look concerned now.

“...Your show.”

“My- Okay, my show, where I…?”

“Tell jokes? Or, you know, try to.”

Richie clears his throat, lips pressed tightly together. Great, so he’s some kind of comedian, he guesses, which is cool because it’s only his biggest dream ever, and he’s heading to a show—his show, she had said—where he has no idea what he’s doing and knows none of the material. That’s- that’s awesome.

Something in his expression must make Lucy crack because she finally asks, “What did you do last night?”

“That’s the thing,” Richie hisses, truly not caring how crazy he sounds anymore. “I slept in a house I’d never seen before, and there was a naked man in my shower, and I saw his-” Richie chokes, and if any of his friends were there to see it, he’d surely never live down stumbling over the word “dick”.

“Oh, no,” Lucy says sarcastically, “not his-” She makes a face, comically scared-looking, and it takes a second for him to realize she’s mocking him.

“Oh, my god,” Richie whines, and he ducks down and puts his head between his knees, fingers laced together against the back of his neck. “I’m sixteen, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” he says, muffled against his jeans.

“Richie, if you’re gonna start lying about your age, I’d go with 37.”

Richie whimpers.

“Okay, come on,” Lucy says and grabs his shoulder, shoving him upright again. She snaps her fingers, points at his face, and says, “Look at me, Tozier.”

Richie does.

“I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but cut the shit, okay? You’ve got a show tonight, and it’s gonna be great, like it always is, alright?”

Richie just looks at her, pout firmly in place.

“Now, repeat after me,” she says, holding his gaze. “I am Richie Tozier. Big time comedian.”

Richie’s heart swells. “I am?” He asks, weakly.

“Repeat it.”

“I am Richie Tozier. Big time comedian.”

It doesn’t sound convincing.

“I am a tough bitch.”

Richie stares at her.

“Say it,” she orders.

“I am a tough bitch,” he says, eyeing her weirdly.

“I'm gonna walk into that theater and not let anyone know I'm hung over.”

“But I’m not hung-”

She glares at him.

“I'm gonna walk into that theater and not let anyone know I'm hung over,” Richie recites obediently.

“Okay,” Lucy says, seeming satisfied. She turns her attention back to the phone in her hand.

The rest of the car ride continues in silence. Richie knows Lucy is watching him out of the corner of her eye, but he really isn’t too concerned with that right now because he’s about to live out every single one of his stress dreams of walking onstage and not knowing his lines.

Maybe I can, like, run into traffic when we get there, he thinks. Or throw myself down a flight of stairs. They’d cancel then, right? Maybe I’ll die and wake up at that fucking bridge.

The pull up around back of a dingy looking building and Richie is swept inside, too overwhelmed by the bustle of the backstage area to really take anything in. Lucy shoves him none too delicately into a makeup chair and Richie spends ten minutes avoiding looking at his not-reflection in the mirror while the poor makeup tech attempts to add some color to his pale, sick-looking face.

Lucy leans over, touches a hand to his shoulder and whispers, “Steve at four o’clock.” 

She backs away as a short brown-haired man in a suit walks up from behind Richie’s right shoulder and claps him on the back.

“Rich! Nice of you to join us.”

“Steve,” Richie says, rote. “You’re my manager.”

“That’s right, baby,” Steve grins. “Who’s your daddy?”

That’s my line, Richie thinks dumbly.

“You’re on in ten. Packed house!” The makeup girl diligently layers powder over the sweat that’s broken out on Richie’s forehead. Steve continues on blithely, “Merchandise is moving like fucking crazy. We’re gonna murder on tour next month,” Steve claps Richie on the back one more time, then hurries away, calling over his shoulder, “Murder!”

Richie wishes someone would murder him.

The makeup girl has finally seemed to give up, so Richie slouches down in his chair, runs a hand through his hair.

“I have your messages,” Lucy says, appearing at his shoulder again. She’s got a phone in her hand, and, oh, they’re mobile apparently. Neat.

“Let’s hear ‘em,” Richie says tiredly, not really caring, but he’ll take anything to prolong the inevitable at this point.

“Okay... Rob called to tell you you’re a prick, and also that he’ll be in town next week—wants to grab dinner. Uh, Judith and the team has your suit ready for that charity event, I already scheduled your fitting for Tuesday. Paul called and left an absolutely filthy message—if you don’t call him back, I will. And, uh, a Mike Hanlon has been calling, like, all day? Says he knew you from high school, wanted to reconnect—I told him to get in line- What?”

Lucy stares at him when Richie jumps up, sending the makeup chair toppling to the floor. He grabs her arm.

Mike Hanlon?

“Yeah, you know him?”

Richie laughs, feeling light for the first time all day.

“Yeah, yes! Can you- can you call him back?”

“What, right now?” Lucy asks, incredulous.

Yes,” Richie intones, a little manically. He clears his throat, tries for something resembling normal, “Please.”

She taps on the phone and then hands it to Richie. He brings it up to his ear, hand shaking.

It rings twice.

“Hello?”

“Mike?” 

“Rich, is that you? Richie Tozier?”

Yes, fuck, Mikey. It’s so good to hear your voice, man.”

And it is good. Mike’s voice sounds older—twenty-four years older, fuck—but familiar, too. That same warmth that Mike’s always carried with him is there, and Richie feels like he could cry.

“You too, Richie,” it sounds like Mike is smiling. “I thought you’d be harder to get ahold of, honestly. Famous comedian Richie Tozier, wouldn’t expect him to take messages from Derry.”

Richie laughs uncomfortably.

“For you, Mike? Anything.”

“You remembered faster than the others, man. It’s nice to not have to re-introduce myself.”

Richie’s brow furrows, “What do you mean remem-”

“Listen, Rich, I don’t have a lot of time. The reason I called is- It’s starting again. It’s back, Richie. It .”

“What do you-” is all Richie gets out before he feels his legs go weak beneath him, stomach churning. The whole room around him pulses in and out of focus. He catches his weight on the makeup table, uses it to stay standing. His fist clenches against his itchy palm.

It starts as an icy feeling in his chest that soon runs through his whole body. He remembers everything up until he was sixteen, sixteen years old at the Kissing Bridge with blood in his mouth, and then he jumped forward, here, today, but he remembers everything else, everything up until then. He remembers, he- 

That summer, the clown.

How could he have forgotten.

“You made an oath, Richie. We all did, do you remember? Will you come?”

“I-” Richie breathes out and it doesn’t sound much like anything. There’s a sharp pain in his hand then, and he unclenches his fist and looks down to find a scar there, an old, angry slash. He’s relatively certain it wasn’t there an hour ago, and is absolutely sure it wasn’t there at the Kissing Bridge twenty-four years ago. 

“Yeah, I’ll come, Mike. I’ll come.”

“Good, Rich, that’s good. Tomorrow, be here tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Richie says lightly. “Sure.”

“I’ll see you soon,” Mike says, and the line goes dead.

Richie puts the phone carefully down on the makeup table. Lucy approaches him cautiously.

“You okay, Rich? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

And Richie tries to answer, he really does, but bile rises in his throat and before he really knows what’s happening, he’s scrambling toward the nearest exit. 

Richie is sixteen years old—scratch that—forty years old, on the fire escape of a sold-out theater, emptying the contents of his stomach down onto the alley below.

Lucy follows him outside.

Richie.”

“I’m good, I’m good,” he says, taking the napkin she offers him and wiping his mouth.

“What the hell is going on, Richie?”

He ignores her question.

“Hey, Luce, you’re my assistant, right?”

“That’s what my LinkedIn profile says,” she answers, goggling at him.

“Great,” Richie says, not knowing what that means, but barrelling along anyway. “Can you, um,” Richie gags a bit, swallows it back down. “Can you get me on a flight to Derry, Maine? Tonight?”

“What about the show?”

He looks at her, vomity napkin held up to his mouth, face clammy, and says sardonically, “I’m not going to the show.”

“I suppose I’m telling Steve, then?”

I suppose I’m buying you the soda, then?

Richie thinks of Eddie, realizes he’ll be in Derry too, and his heart constricts.

“Yes, please,” he says in a small voice.

Lucy must see something final on his face because she blessedly doesn’t argue.

“Right. Um, yeah. I- I can probably get you on a red eye to JFK tonight. I’m sure there’s some tiny airport up there that will get you close to- Derry, was it?”

“Yes,” he says, and then, an afterthought, “Thank you.”

In the hours that follow, Richie comes to realize that Lucy is a fucking angel, because once she’s sure he’s not gonna ralph in the backseat, she gets him back into the black car and sends him home to pack. When she calls an hour later, she’s got him on a flight from LAX to JFK, then JFK to Bangor, a rental booking, a hotel room in Derry, and a car picking him up at 9.

“You’re amazing,” he tells her. “A fucking marvel. You deserve a raise.”

“Your words, Tozier. Anything else?”

“Uh, yeah, do you know what the passcode to my phone is?”

--

Richie Tozier is forty (sixteen) and is returning to his hometown on the strength of a promise he made twenty-seven (three) years ago, and he feels terrified and relieved in equal measure.

Terrified for the obvious, because even as he forgot the things that had happened that summer, well, that was the point, right? If they really all forgot, and from the way Mike spoke it sounded like they did, surely they were meant to. They were meant to forget and enjoy nearly three decades in a world without that fucking clown, ignorant of the horrors that had plagued them that summer.

I was supposed to have more time, Richie thinks petulantly.

The relief is what he holds onto, though. Because Richie has spent sixteen years feeling wrong in his skin, but even so has never felt so out of his depth as he had since this ordeal has started. Waking up in a body you don’t recognize will do that to a person, he guesses. But hearing Mike’s name, hearing his voice felt like a fucking life raft. Like if he can just make it back to his friends, maybe he’ll find his footing again. Because this is definitely weird, this is so fucking weird, but- but they’ve dealt with weird shit before, haven’t they? And they came out on top. Even if Richie can’t exactly remember how they managed to do so just yet.

Richie spends the six hour flight poking at the phone that Lucy taught him how to unlock. He finds some photos, but they don’t tell him much except that he apparently travels a lot. There’s not many photos of people, rather places and things, and he gets bored looking through them almost immediately, none of them jogging his memory. He finds an Address Book but doesn’t find any of the Losers listed there, or even his parents, for that matter, and he shoves the thought away before he can really panic about it. He pokes at a tile that says Messages, but doesn’t find much there either, save for long chains of messages from Lucy and Steve and other professional contacts. He gets as far as delving into a handful of unnamed numbers that are setting up what he realizes, with blazing cheeks, are dates, when the screen flashes something at him, then turns to black. When he can’t get it to turn back on, he presses his face against the window beside him and tries, fruitlessly, to sleep.

Richie picks up the rental car in Bangor and when they give him the pick of the lot, he selects a choice little red convertible, because he can, but also because he knows Stan will hate it.

The girl at the counter shoots him a weird look (one that Richie is increasingly getting used to) when he asks for a map on the way out, but she gives him one anyway, and before he really knows it, he’s crossing over the Derry city limits. And sixteen year old Richie, the one of yesterday morning, would never believe the rush of relief that floods him in that moment, even as fear constricts around his chest. He feels dizzy with it.

He pulls into the small parking lot of the Derry Townhouse and wonders absently if the few other cars parked in the lot belong to his friends. But he sees no sign of them as he checks in and lets himself into his room.

He stands in the bathroom now, staring down at the green porcelain of the sink.

Come on, man,” he whispers, steels himself, then looks up into the mirror.

His reflection grimaces back at him.

Fuck,” he says on a sigh, and then, “Nope! No.” He swings the door of the medicine cabinet wide so that the reflection faces away from him. He splashes water on his face, then grabs his keys from the other room and heads out the door.

A message had popped up on his phone earlier, before he’d boarded his flight. The number had a Derry area code and had given the name of a restaurant Richie didn’t remember, but the address is familiar at least. There’s nothing that far out on Pasture Road save for the Ironworks, so Richie figures it must be close. It’s a shock when he sees the shiny new mall loom out from the place the rusty ruins of the Ironworks are meant to be, and Richie wonders for the first time how much of the Derry as he knew it twenty-four years (one day) ago is left. He resolves to ask Mike about the arcade and the Aladdin when he sees him.

He finds the restaurant easy enough, and when he clamors out of the car he catches sight of a shock of red hair and a familiar besotted smile. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jacket, feeling self-conscious in his new skin, and approaches the pair as they hug.

“Well, you two look amazing,” he says, voice flat, feeling nervous. “What the fuck happened to me?”

And then Beverly smiles at him, and Ben wraps him in a warm hug, and Richie feels grounded for the first time since waking up in this new life.

Beverly is just as beautiful as ever, hair kept short and that same twinkle in her eye, like she knows exactly what you’re thinking at a given moment. Ben is not so much the same, but he looks good- his physique, for one, but there’s also a little bit of confidence there that never was before. Like maybe he’s settled into someone he likes.

Richie wishes he felt the same way.

They’re grown up, he thinks, and the overwhelming emotion that floods him at the thought is pride.

They marvel over each other for a few moments longer and then make their way inside, giving Mike’s name to the hostess. They’re ushered into a private room, and there’s three grown men standing at the back, and Richie registers the sight of a familiar shade of brown hair and the hint of a dimple he’s pretty sure he’s spent hours thinking about kissing, and it makes his skin crawl.

So Richie does the only thing he knows how to do and makes as much of a scene as possible.

The noise of the gong reverberates loudly through the room and Richie announces, “This meeting of the Losers Club has officially begun.”

They all turn to look at them, then, Eddie looks at him, and Richie, well, wants to die.

He’s older, certainly, and more nervous around the eyes, if that’s even possible, but it’s the same big brown eyes that stare back at him, the same cut of his jaw and twist of his mouth, and it’s stupid, Richie thinks, that he should be so completely attracted to every version of Eddie.

He’s hot, Richie thinks dumbly. He’s old and he’s hot and life is just not fucking fair.

Without even really thinking about it, Richie stumbles over to Eddie and wraps him in a desperate hug, knocking a quiet little “oof” out of him. Eddie huffs out a laugh and his hands slowly come up to rest on Richie’s back in turn.

“S’good to see you too, Rich.” 

Richie lets go then- well, mostly. He grips Eddie’s forearms and holds him at arm's length, staring openly like he’s never really allowed himself before. Because this is still Other Richie’s life, and if Eddie thinks Other Richie is a weirdo, well, that’s not his problem.

“Eddie,” he says, sounding breathless, then laughs. “You’re tall! You’re different,” he says, eyes flickering back and forth across Eddie’s face, taking in every new line, every new hard edge there.

I’m tall?” Eddie says incredulously, and his voice is different but it stills makes Richie’s heart swoop. And then he’s laughing and pulling Richie into another hug, and Richie is very nearly approaching the danger zone of things that will almost certainly make him cry.

He’s saved (or interrupted) by Beverly who is elbowing her way in to get her own hug from Eddie, and Richie tears his eyes away long enough to get a good look at Bill (who looks just as much a catch as ever) and Mike (who looks a little haunted around the eyes, if Richie’s being honest, but his smile is still warm and genuine). 

Richie’s almost able to relax for the simple fact of being back here with all of them.

Well, almost all of them.

“Where’s Stan?” he asks, and strange looks pass over the others’ faces. Like they’ve only just remembered there’d been something out of place.

“I don’t know,” Mike answers, trying (and failing, Richie thinks) for lightness. “He said he’d come.”

Richie watches Mike’s face and feels his own mimic the look of unease he sees there.

“Let’s s-sit down,” Bill says, taking the lead when no one else seems to know what to say. “W-we can order more when he gets here.”

They sit down and the giddy energy they’d all had upon first seeing each other returns quickly. Beverly is telling them about her move to Chicago after college when the waitress swoops in to take their drink orders.

“Coke’s good,” Richie says absently, trying to keep the thread of the story, then, realizing something, turns to look at her fully.

“Actually, make it a beer,” he says, grin widening across his face. “Wanna see my ID? Totally have it.”

He sees Eddie rolling his eyes and gives him a wink, smiling wider when the blush colors his cheeks.

“Everybody wang chung tonight, right, Eds?”

“You’re so fucking weird, man.”

Richie opens his mouth to respond, but the waitress interrupts, “Sapporo okay?” 

“Mhm!” Richie hums, blinking at her.

Things get a little fuzzy after that.

It becomes clear very quickly that it’s been a very long time since any of them have last seen each other. Richie deduces that they haven’t been all together like this since high school- But that’s not right either, is it? Because now that Richie thinks about it, really thinks about it, they haven’t all seven of them been together since- since that summer. Since they were thirteen.

Where is Stan? He should be here by now.

Beer turns into sake, which in turn turns into something stronger, and before long Richie is riding a very pleasant buzz. So pleasant, in fact, that he forgets to temper his fixation on the ring that’s wedged on Eddie’s left hand.

And he doesn’t want to know, not really. Because his heart aches like something he’s never felt before, and he takes another shot to dull it, but then his mouth is speaking of its own accord, like it always does, and, well, Richie never stood a chance.

“Wait, so, Eddie, you got married?”

“Yeah. Why’s it so fucking funny, dickwad?”

Richie doubles down on the ugly feeling inside of him, “What- to, like, a woman?”

“Fuck you, bro.”

Richie laughs and it sounds hollow to his own ears.

“Fuck you!”

Then Bill’s talking to him and Richie tears his eyes away from Eddie. “Alright, what about you, Trashmouth, you married?”

And Richie doesn’t actually know, is the thing. He could be, he supposes, it’s not like he actively searched the house before he left for some sign of a wedding ring, for some sign of a- of a partner.

The man in his bed didn’t exactly scream married.

But Richie is very much not ready to broach that subject yet, so he improvises instead.

“No, I am! No, I got married.”

“Richie, I don’t believe it.”

Richie’s facade almost cracks when he makes eye contact with Bev, but then comes Eddie’s voice, sincerely curious, “When?”

And it’s really just too easy.

“Did you not hear this? Don’t you know I got married?”

“No!” Eddie says, and it’s so earnest that Richie almost feels bad.

Almost.

“Yeah, no, me and your mom are very, very happy right now.”

The look Eddie gives him is so much the same as the sixteen-year-old Richie knows, he’s never been so happy to be on the receiving end of a glare.

“Fuck you.”

And Richie has felt so unbelievably off-balance over the last twenty-four hours, but this, at least, is familiar. This easy back and forth with Eddie has lost none of its vibrancy. He’s able to goad and tease him the same as ever, and Eddie still rises to the bait, like nothing’s changed. And he’s so happy to know that this, them, RichieandEddie, is still the same, that it makes him feel a little weepy, stupidly.

The night continues with that same dizzy energy, the group giddy on the fact that they’re just together again.

Richie turns to Eddie, feeling warm at the soft smile on Eddie’s face when his eyes flicker over to him.

“So, you really don’t remember me?” he asks quietly, feeling brave from the drink.

“Well, I do now,” Eddie says, “But before...” Eddie’s smile turns a little sad, his eyebrows pinched.

“Oh, that’s so weird,” Richie breathes. “Because yesterday you were there,” he says under his breath, talking more to himself than to Eddie. “But the thing is it wasn’t yesterday, because I’m not 16.”

He looks up at Eddie again and Eddie looks confused, starts, “Richie, did you-” But then Ben is speaking up over the chatter and the table quiets.

“It’s weird, right? Now that we’re all here, everything just comes back faster and faster. I mean, all of it.”

At Ben’s words, a weight falls in Richie’s gut, the crippling fear he’d felt when he spoke to Mike returns all at once in a harsh wave.

“Do you guys- You know when, uh, Mike called me I threw up, isn’t that weird?” Richie’s words fall out of his mouth, bumping up against each other. “Like, I got nervous, I got, like, sick and I threw up.” He laughs and it sounds wrong. “I feel fine now. I feel very relieved to be here with you guys.” He looks up at them, nervous. “Why’s everybody looking at me like this?”

Eddie saves him, “When Mike called me, I crashed my car.”

The pieces fall into place quickly after that. They fess up, admit to the fear that hasn’t gone away since Mike called, hasn’t gone away since long before that, maybe. Mike explains why they’ve forgotten, explains as best he can, anyway. And then Beverly’s the first to say it.

“Pennywise.”

Things pretty much fall to shit after that.

After a truly horrific display that Richie is sure will make him unable to even look at a fortune cookie ever again (Guess Stanley could not cut it runs through his head on a loop, and he tries very hard not to think about what it means), they hurry out of the restaurant. Or try to, anyway.

“Hey, Richie.”

Richie turns slowly and sees an adorable kid. A suspiciously adorable kid. 

“How’d you, uh- How’d you know my name?”

The fun’s just beginning, right?”

And then a creepy grin spreads across the kid’s face, and Richie doesn’t wait to see what happens next, doesn’t wait to see his eyes roll back in his head or his teeth turn sharp or sludge pour from his mouth or whatever other fucked up shit the clown has in store for him. He doesn’t even register what he’s saying, really, he just gets in his face and yells.

“I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU!”

The kid just looks at him.

“‘The fun’s just beginning.’” He recites flatly. “The line from your act, dude.”

And oh, right, he’s, like, famous or something.

“Are those your parents?”

“Yeah.”

Richie tries to think of something to say, tries to think of a plausible reason for screaming in some little kid’s face, but unsurprisingly comes up short.

He smiles at the kid, hopes it doesn’t look too crazy, then realizes it’s probably too late for that.

“Good luck with fractions!”

He pats the kid on the shoulder, turns on his heel, and walks briskly past the Losers and out the door.

Ben’s voice follows him, “Jesus, Richie, you don’t remember a line from your own show?” 

He shoves his hands into his jacket pockets and grumbles, “I didn’t write those jokes.” 

Then Eddie’s voice, victorious, “I fucking knew it! I fucking knew it.” 

And Richie wants to rip out his hair. 

“No,” he hisses, grabbing Eddie’s arm and pulling him aside, away from the others. “I mean I didn’t write those jokes!”

Eddie watches him, confused, face screwed up with worry. Richie wishes he’d stop looking at him like that.

“Listen, Eds, I don’t know what’s happening, okay, but I’m not-”

And Richie doesn’t really know how he means to explain how he traveled through time and managed to find himself right back in this shitty town with all its shitty demons, but before he gets the chance, Ben is shushing them and the voice on Beverly’s phone cuts through the noise.

“Oh,” a quiet sob, and then, “he passed.”

Everything in Richie grinds to a halt. He barely hears the words that come next for the deafening static that’s clouded his head.

In the bath, though, fucking hell.

And that’s- that’s just not possible because Richie had seen Stan yesterday, at the quarry, with him and Eddie and Bill, and Stan wouldn’t- Stan would never

Except he would. The thought whispers through Richie’s head like it doesn’t belong to him. Except he did. 

And Richie knows Stan, knows that the worst part of It, for him, was the wrongness of it. Because Stan always seemed so much older than the rest of them, a little more adult. And maybe that was the problem, in the end. Everything they saw that summer, everything that happened to them was an affront to the carefully ordered and rational world that Stan saw around him. And Richie knows Stan better than almost anyone, but Richie, this Richie hasn’t seen Stan in over twenty years. And he has no idea what this Stan would have done to protect himself from such an affront.

Or, rather, he does now.

And Mike is talking then, about the clown and the plan, and Richie can’t believe that they’re not already running for the fucking hills.

“I’m getting the fuck out of here, man,” he hears himself say.

“We made a promise to each other.”

And Richie doesn’t much care at the moment, because he remembers that day that Bill cut open their hands now, and maybe twenty-seven years has made the memory all rosy and halcyon in the others’ heads, but for Richie it wasn’t that long ago, and what he remembers most is how much it fucking hurt.

“Richie, other people are gonna die.”

“Other people die every day, man! We don’t owe this town shit.” 

And it’s such bullshit, Richie thinks, because he never swore an oath for this town that never held any love for him. He swore it for his friends. For all of them. And fat lot of good it did them, because Stan’s already gone, and Richie doesn’t know why they’re pretending that anything else matters.

“I’m fucking leaving. Fuck this.”

And he knows he sounds like a petulant little kid, but fuck, he is a kid and he wants to go-

Home. Except he doesn’t even know what that means, really. Because the only real home he’s known is the one he made with his friends. Without them, he’s not really sure what there is to run away to. It’s felt like a dream, this whole thing. Like this is someone else’s life and Richie is just visiting, but Stan- Stan’s gone, and all of a sudden this life feels much too real.

He hears Eddie follow him, good old Eddie, and he intercepts him before he can get into his car.

Eddie yelps when Richie grabs him.

“What the fuck, Richie?”

“Eddie, something really weird is happening.”

“Yeah, no shit, Rich. There’s a killer clown out to get us.”

Richie lets out a strangled laugh.

“Yeah, no, different weird.” He takes a breath. “Look, Eddie, do you remember that day the summer after sophomore year- We’d gone to the quarry with the others and I walked you to the pharmacy and then some asshole- some asshole decked me, and then I ran away- Do you remember that?”

Eddie stares at him, looking pained, “Yeah, Rich, I do.”

“Okay, well, I don’t remember anything after that. I remember everything about growing up here, I remember you and the others, and the summer with the clown—or I’m starting to at least—but everything after that day when we were sixteen is just- it’s just gone.”

Richie searches Eddie’s face and doesn’t find anything reassuring there.

“What do you mean ‘gone’?”

“Eddie, yesterday I was sixteen and then- and then today I woke up like this,” Richie gestures to himself, “and you- I mean, you’re that!”

Eddie squints at him.

"Are you high? You been smoking pot? Doing X? Fallen into a k-hole? You doing drugs?"

“What? No!” Richie rolls his eyes. “No, look- I was sitting at the Kissing Bridge, and I skipped everything! It’s like a weird dream. I- I don’t remember my life. You have to help me remember my life, Eds.”

“Me?”

“Yes.” 

“I can’t do that.” 

Richie’s brow furrows, “Why not?” 

“Because I don’t know anything about you, Richie,” Eddie explodes, hands waving. “I haven’t seen you since high school.” 

Richie reels back like he’s been slapped. 

“What?” 

Eddie gives him that pained look again and says, “We’re not friends anymore, Richie.” 

And that is just- that’s too much for Richie. The punches haven’t fucking stopped since he woke up yesterday. He’d known for the conversation at dinner of course that it had been a while since they’d all caught up, clearly, but he never would have thought that they weren’t- that they weren’t friends anymore.

He says, “Eddie, you’re my best friend,” and it sounds desperate to his own ears.

“No, I’m not.”

Richie sucks in a breath, then holds it because he’s not sure he can let it go without crying.

Eddie’s face twists into something sympathetic. “Listen, Rich,” Eddie reaches up his hand in an aborted attempt to touch his shoulder, then thinks better of it. “This whole thing has been fucked from the start, okay? Your memories are probably just… It’s probably just your mind... compensating for all the fucked up shit that’s flooded it since Mike called, okay? They’ll- they’ll come back. Like everything else.”

Richie doesn’t bother telling him that the memories were gone before he ever talked to Mike.

He clenches his jaw and breathes out through his nose.

“Uh, yeah,” he says, trying for normal and landing somewhere around the vicinity of ‘on the verge of tears.' He shakes his head and swallows. “No, you’re- you’re probably right, Eds- Eddie.” He corrects himself for what may be the first time ever. “It’s just been a really shitty day.”

And Eddie’s got that worried look on his face again. Richie doesn’t know why he bothers. 

“Let’s just get out of here, yeah? Put this place in the rear view mirror.”

Richie nods and smiles at him, lips pressed tightly together, and turns back to his car.

--

Richie is six- forty, he’s forty. Richie is forty years old and is pretending to marvel at a dilapidated clubhouse that he’s not meant to have seen in a good twenty years.

After the most depressing rallying cry Richie’s ever heard—if you don’t stay, you’ll die anyway, real fucking inspiring—the Losers follow Mike down Kansas Street and into the Barrens.

The clubhouse is pretty much just as dark and earthy as Richie remembers. It had kind of lost its appeal once the threat of the Bowers gang was no longer looming over them, and once they’d learned how to drive, the Losers had other means to escape for a while. The place still holds happy memories, though, and Richie finds himself feeling nostalgic, like he’s meant to. Maybe not quite twenty-seven years nostalgic, but still.

And then it’s a little too quiet and sentimental for Richie’s taste, and, well, the fun’s just beginning, right?

Hey, Losers! Time to float.

Everyone’s head whips in his direction, Ben falls on his ass, and Mike is picking up a baseball bat, and Richie’s really not all that keen on getting brained by an even taller, buffer version of Mike, so he drops the voice and steps out into the light from the hatch, laughing.

Dude! ” Eddie reprimands, indignant.

“Remember he used to say that shit?” Richie asks, still laughing. “And he’d do that little dance?” 

He mimics the clown’s walk, jerky like a marionette on strings. The others don’t laugh, and Jesus, they really have gotten old.

“Am I the only one who remembers this shit?”

And maybe he is, he realizes. Save for Mike at least. Because if everyone else forgot, really forgot everything about this place and each other as soon as they left, maybe it comes back easier for Richie, Richie who is still sixteen, sort of, and who hadn’t left, not really.

It leaves a bad taste in Richie’s mouth, the thought that they all could have lost each other so easily. Like they’d left Derry and the bond that held them all together fell slack. And if that’s true, if that’s really true, Richie finds that he’s not so cut up about hitting skip on the last two decades.

“Are you going to be like this the entire time we’re home?”

Richie snaps out of his bleak thoughts.

“Et tu, Eds? You taught me these moves, come on,” Richie says, shifting the dance into some mangled interpretation of the Thriller. 

He’s met with blank faces.

“Nothing? Alright, I’ll go fuck myself,” he says, then whistles and walks away.

They find the showers caps, and the conversation inevitably turns back to Stan, and Richie can’t fucking take it. Stepping off the ladder and out into the cool morning breeze that wends slowly through the Barrens is both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air. Richie can’t stand the cloying weight of the memories from the clubhouse. He doesn’t know how the others can stand it when the whole fucking town must feel that way to them.

And then Mike is saying, “We need to split up,” and Richie really, really can’t believe they’re walking straight into the plot of every half-baked horror movie he’s seen at the Aladdin.

But then Bill speaks up, concedes Mike’s point, and the argument is lost before it really starts.

They leave the Barrens together, looking at each other with grim faces up at the stretch of overgrowth where Bill had always stashed Silver—Richie wonders if the others remember that. Then one by one they’re peeling off, Bill first, then Mike, then Bev, and Ben shortly behind her, and then Eddie makes to leave too, until Richie grabs hold of his wrist.

He doesn’t really know why he does it, except that Eddie had said that they weren’t friends anymore, and that- that doesn’t really jive well with Richie. Because Richie is already down one best friend—the thought makes his heart constrict, his stomach flop—and he’s not about to just let another one go.

“Wanna go for a walk?” he asks, a little desperately. Richie drops Eddie’s wrist quickly and shoves his hands back into his pockets.

Eddie’s mouth twists.

“We’re supposed to split up. It’ll help us… remember better, or something.” Eddie says, clearly not believing it. Richie’s not having too hard a time remembering though, and he’d rather be with Eddie anyway.

“We can still pull a Scooby-Doo and find our tokens later, just- just walk with me, Eds.”

“Don’t call me that.” Eddie says it fast, without thinking, and then his nose wrinkles like he’s remembering every other time he’s said it, and Richie just grins dopily down at him, because Eddie is still Eddie and Richie is happy to annoy him in every iteration he meets.

Eddie looks up at Richie’s face, stares for a second like he’s looking for something, and then says, “Sure, okay.”

“Fabulous-o,” Richie mutters and starts off down the street, long strides leaving all five-foot-nine-is-average-actually of Eddie to catch up with him.

“So, you’ve seen my show,” Richie prompts when Eddie falls into step beside him. He watches Eddie blush out of the corner of his eye.

“I- Why would you think that?”

“‘I fucking knew it,’” Richie recites, grinning now. “You don’t think I write my own material.”

Eddie huffs, says, “I’ve heard every version of Trashmouth Tozier’s dick jokes, okay. It’s not so hard to discern the difference when you’ve been subjected to it since the fifth grade.”

“So, you have seen it,” Richie says, swinging around to walk backwards in front of Eddie, cheshire cat grin spread across his face.

“For fuck’s sake, Richie, you’re on Comedy Central every other week- Yes, I’ve caught your special once or twice, alright?”

Eddie glares at him and Richie just hums, falling back into step beside Eddie.

“So, am I any good?” Richie asks, genuinely curious, because if Eddie is right (and despite the years, he’s inclined to believe he is) and if Richie has made a career out of telling other people’s jokes, he wonders how this Richie is able to tell the difference when the audience is laughing with him or at him.

“If you’re fishing for compliments, maybe try Ben, dude.”

“Eddie, come on,” Richie says, laughing. “I’m not fishing, I just want to know what you think.”

And something in Richie’s voice must make Eddie take pause because he takes a deep breath and then says, “You’re charming, okay, Richie? You- you’ve always been good in front of a crowd. The jokes are a little…” Eddie winces and Richie feels himself mimicking the expression. “But I don’t know, you have… stage presence, or whatever. Charisma.” Eddie takes in a breath like he’s going to say more, but holds it, then scowls. “Happy, asshole?”

“Yes,” Richie says and smiles, not really sure if he’s feeling it, but-

But Eddie called him charming.

“Wait- how does that work? You don’t remember me, but you remember enough to know that my act is full of shit?”

“You’re always full of shit, Rich,” Eddie deadpans. He shrugs, “I don’t know, it’s the same with Bill, I guess. I would recognize your names, but-” Eddie stares a few feet ahead, like he’s trying to place something just out of reach. Richie, for once, stays quiet. “It’s weird, it was like- like I knew we went to high school together, I- I knew of you, at least, but everything was just… foggy. Like nothing was solid enough to grab hold of. But now it’s like-” Eddie’s eyes widen, and he smiles a little, and Richie’s not sure he knows that he’s doing it. “The memories are there again. You’re there again.” He trails off, speaking quietly, almost to himself. “You’re front and fucking center.”

Richie breathes in sharply and Eddie seems to come back to himself. He looks at Richie, nervous, then quickly away, and says, “Sorry. Being back here, it’s- it’s easy to get lost in- in remembering.”

For the millionth time, Richie wishes he knew what Eddie was thinking, wonders, Can you tell, this time around? Hindsight being twenty-twenty and all, can you tell about me? Can you tell how I was so, so in l-

He backtracks on that thought quick and in the confusion a question tumbles out that he hadn’t meant to ask.

“Your wife—Is she your soulmate?”

Eddie stops walking and stares up at Richie, brow furrowed.

“My soulmate? Richie, what-” 

“Sorry, sorry,” Richie says, waving his hand, panic clouding his head. Danger, Will Robinson! “I don’t know why- Forget I said anything.”

“I don’t- I don’t know if I believe in those,” Eddie says, walking again, slower now. “I think that’s kind of naive.” 

Richie grimaces, but his mouth barrels on without his brain’s consent, like always.

“But you get goosebumps when you’re around her. Butterflies.”

And god, Richie is sixteen, not a sixteen year old girl.

“Uh, no,” Eddie says, smiling now. He looks sideways at Richie and his face settles into something softer. “I haven’t gotten crazy like that about a person since high school... thank goodness.” 

Richie’s heart pounds heavy in his chest. It seems impossible that even now, with what’s meant to be twenty years of difference, Eddie can still make him feel this way. That Eddie at every age, in every rendition, could have this kind of effect on him.

“Eddie, what- what happened, to us?” Richie stops walking again, and Eddie slows. His head falls just a little and he seems to steel himself before turning around to face Richie. “I mean, how come we never stayed friends?” 

Eddie shrugs, lies, as poorly as always, “I don’t know, I forget.” 

“No,” Richie says, knowing he’s begging now. “What happened?” 

“Rich, come on, aren’t- aren’t you remembering?”

No,” he hisses, frustrated. Then, quieter, “No, I- I remember the clown, and I remember that summer, but I don’t- I don’t remember what happened after. What happened to us.”

Eddie laughs nervously and looks down at the ground, takes a breath and says, “I don’t know, Richie, I can pretty much peg it to that summer after sophomore year.”

Richie looks up at that. “That’s the last thing I remember.”

Eddie’s mouth is pressed into a thin line and he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. 

“Look, we don’t have to get into this- It was such a long time ago, man. It really doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It matters to me,” Richie says, searching Eddie’s face. “Just- just tell me, Eddie.”

Eddie grimaces, looking pained. He shakes his head, crosses his arms across his chest.

“Uh- I don’t know, Rich. Things were normal, for a while, but then you just- you just slipped away. I don’t know what happened, you never told me, you just- You didn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

Richie breathes out shakily. It doesn’t- It doesn’t make sense, none of this makes any sense.

Eddie cocks his head, looks sideways at Richie with a false grin on his face, eyebrows pinched. “It really sucks you don’t remember, dude, cause I was actually hoping you’d tell me.”

Richie can see Eddie’s fist tighten in the fabric of his jacket where he’s got his arms crossed.

“Eddie, I don’t-”

Eddie interrupts him, a determined look on his face. The same one he used to wear when he was scared, but bracing himself to barrel ahead anyway. “You asked me if I remembered that day, at the bridge?”

“Yeah.”

“Richie, I remember it because it’s the last day you fucking spoke to me.” Richie’s stomach drops. “I followed you, from the pharmacy, and I found you at the Kissing Bridge, and you were- you were pretty messed up. And I tried to get you to come with me, but you just told me-” Eddie pauses, looks down and tenses his jaw. “You told me, ‘I’m not your fucking boyfriend.’”

And Richie hears it, the echo of it. Except it’s not him saying it. It’s Bowers’s cousin, at the arcade. And it’s easy, now, thinking about that day on the bridge, to imagine Richie, sixteen years old and heartbroken and so fucking tired, conjuring up the words that would hurt most. They’d hurt him most, anyway. The words that would make Eddie leave. 

He had forgotten that. Not from whatever fucked up magic Derry held over all of them, but just genuinely forgot all the heartbreak that had consumed him that day at the bridge. He’d been so relieved to see his friends again, so relieved to see Eddie that it just… hadn’t seemed so important anymore.

“And I yelled at you, but it- it wasn’t the same as always. And then you ran away. And then, uh, you just-” Eddie shrugs. “You just stopped being my friend. And never spoke to me after that, ever.” 

It feels so distant now, that day at the bridge. Not for the twenty-four years that physically separates Richie from it, but standing here, looking at Eddie with his arms wrapped tight around himself, face pinched with worry—Richie’s not sure how he could have ever let him go.

“Eds-”

“You still hung out with Stan,” Eddie continues, unable to stop once he’s started. “And you smoked with Bev sometimes, but it was like you just… faded away. You didn’t talk as much, at least not to me, and you kept your head down in school—I didn’t even know you were capable of it, Rich—and then- and then we graduated, and you left.”

Eddie looks up at him, same nervous look on his face. 

“I went to your house a week after graduation trying to find you, for- for closure, or something, but you were already gone.”

Richie looks at Eddie and feels every inch of the distance between them. Five feet and twenty-four years.

“I’m so sorry.”

Eddie deflates then, like the telling of it has winded him. “Forget it, Richie,” Eddie says, looking tired. Looking his age. “It was a long time ago-” No, it wasn’t. “-it doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters, Eds,” Richie says, feeling sick at himself. “Stop being so nice to me. It doesn’t suit you.”

Eddie huffs a laugh, his face twisting into something that resembles a smile. 

“Eddie, I don’t know what’s happened to my life.” And Richie has spent so long lying about so many things, but this, at least, feels true. “I don’t know how the fuck I got here, but- but the thing is—I’m not 16 anymore,” he says, shoulders hunched up in a shrug. “It’s probably time I stopped acting like it.”

Eddie smiles wanly at him, says, “I don’t know, Rich, isn’t that kind of counterproductive to what we’re trying to do here?”

Richie snorts, feels his shoulders relax. “Yeah, maybe.”

They stand together at the crest of the hill, both unsure where to go from here. Then Eddie breaks the spell, bites his lip and says, “We should probably, uh, go get our tokens.”

“Right,” Richie says, mouth pulling a small grin.

“Right, well, I’m going-” Eddie gestures awkwardly to his left and turns to make his way to the crosswalk.

Richie watches him go and hates it.

“Eds!”

Eddie looks over his shoulder, “Yeah?”

“Arrivederci.”

Eddie gets that look on his face again, kind of dazed but in a good way, like he’s been hit between the eyes with a new memory. A smile—a good one, this time—blooms across his face. He watches Richie for a moment, then shakes his head, says, “I’ll see you.”

Richie screws up his face, “Eddie!”

Eddie sighs, “Yeah?”

Richie raises an eyebrow expectantly.

“Au revoir,” Eddie says, smiling.

--

Richie is kind of sixteen and is kind of forty and is definitely running the fuck away.

“I’m leaving.”

Ben’s voice follows him up the stairs, “What- You can’t leave, man. We split, we all die.”

“Yeah, I’ll take my chances, we’re gonna die anyway.”

And he knows he sounds like a brat, he knows he sounds like a child, but that’s the thing- maybe the rest of them are a little thrown for walking back into the lives they inhabited as kids, but Richie really hasn’t done a whole lot of growing up since he last looked that fucking clown in the face, and he doesn’t feel any better equipped to handle it now than he did then. Sure, the others may feel like they’re kids again, but Richie is an actual fucking kid and he’s not fucking doing this shit again.

He bangs through the door to his room and hauls the duffle bag that he never really unpacked onto his bed to throw the few loose items he’d left scattered around the room into it. The door barely closes behind him before Ben is letting himself in and fuck, he should have locked that.

Ben’s got his earnest eyes on, the ones he usually reserves for Bev and, like, woodland animals, probably, and Richie winces at him.

“Look, man, whatever you’re gonna say, just- just save your breath, alright. It’s a miracle Mike got us all out here in the first place,” well, Richie thinks bitterly, almost all of us. “The fact that none of us has left yet actually just make us certifiable, I’m pretty sure. But I just remembered that I don’t actually have a death wish, so.”

Richie roughly yanks the zipper closed on his bag and reluctantly faces Ben.

“Richie, you know what happens if we leave. You know what Bev saw.”

“So she had one dream that happened to come true, that doesn’t make her a fucking oracle!”

Ben scoffs at him. Richie wonders how much it takes out of him to do so.

“You know it’s more than that, Rich. You feel it, man, I know you do.”

What Richie feels is an acute desire to put as much distance between himself and this place as he possibly can.

“Whatever, man. Better to die out there than here with that clown laughing in my face.”

Ben’s eyes soften, impossibly, further. Richie wishes they wouldn’t.

“What did you see, Rich?” Richie grimaces. “What did It show you?”

Richie stares at him, then says, “Something I’d rather forget.”

Richie doesn’t know what grown up fears the clown is using to taunt the others with these days, if Ben was chased down the block by an IRS man or some shit, but Richie’s fears are very much just as childish and pathetic as they always were. The clown seems to have refined it, at least, in the twenty seven years It had to think about it.

Should I tell them, Richie? Should I tell him?

Richie wonders how it would be if he was like the rest of them. If he was actually there for the growing up and got to forget all the shit that plagued him as a kid. Was it better? Did it make it any easier?

“Whatever it was, Richie, it- it wasn’t real.”

Richie laughs bitterly at that. 

“That’s the thing, man. Maybe- maybe the theatrics, maybe the song and dance—literal, by the way—is just It fucking with us, but the things It says-” He hears his voice crack and he stops, feels his jaw flex, starts again. “The things It says to me, anyway, are very fucking real.”

Ben’s eyebrows furrow, his mouth twists, and Richie thinks maybe he’s not the only one to be confronted with some unfortunate truths today.

“It’s okay to be scared, man.”

Richie doesn’t like the look in his eye at all.

“Great! You get it. So I’m just gonna-” Richie hikes his bag onto his shoulder and moves to make a b-line around Ben, but Ben steps to the side, cutting him off, hands raised like a fucking lineman.

“Come on, man,” Richie whines. “You said it yourself last time, alright, ‘We’ll be forty and far away from here.’” Richie laughs a little hysterically for the irony, as if those words weren’t the only reason he was here to begin with. “I’m just trying to make that a reality.”

“I did, I said that, but I was wrong, Richie. We did it last time. We did it together.”

His eyes have the audacity to sparkle, that bastard.

And Richie knows he’s fighting a losing battle, knows that Haystack is a no man left behind kind of guy, so Richie does the only reasonable thing he can think of and steels himself to lie through his teeth.

He lets his shoulders fall, his duffle bag hitting the floor with a dull thump.

“That was corny as hell, man. I can’t believe that’s working.”

“We need you, Rich.”

Ugh, gag me.” Richie sneers at him, “If I agree to stay will you cut that shit out?”

“Yeah,” Ben says, laughing a little, and his hand finally fall to his sides.

“Death by clown is probably only, like, the third worst way to go, right?” Richie says, rocking back on his heels.

Ben looks at him, grinning, “I’m glad I got to meet you before you died.”

“What?”

“You said that to me, after Bowers tried to gut me.”

Richie smiles and feels horrible for it.

“No more sentimental shit, dude. I’m one man, I can only look into those puppy dog eyes for so long before my brain completely melts.”

“Alright, alright,” Ben says, backing away towards the door. “You coming?”

“I’ll be down in a second, just-” Richie tries to look extra pathetic. “Just give me a minute?”

“Sure,” Ben says, and then he’s gone. And Richie waits for a minute and then he picks up his duffle bag and makes a break for the fire exit.

And fuck, fuck, he knows he’s a coward for it, knows that he’s leaving his friends in the lurch, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to grow up and make their lives something good and then they’d be ready to come back to finish the thing together, if they had to at all. And Richie can play at this adult thing as long as he wants, but the truth of it is that he is just as scared as he ever was. Scared of the clown, and of this place, and of the things inside him that feel like they’re bursting at the seams.

What happened at the arcade wasn’t the worst thing that happened to him that summer, but it’s the thing he’s carried with him the longest. And It knows. It knows the worst of him, and It knows that he hadn’t ever been able to let go of it, not really.

So he’s running away. And they’re already down one Loser anyway, so what’s the point, really. Whatever magic bound the Lucky Seven clearly dropped short of the fucking mark.

But then Richie pulls up to the synagogue and he sees Stan’s name on the marquee. Or- or maybe he doesn’t, fuck, but he stops the car and gets out anyway.

Richie remembers feeling so fucking proud that day. 

He had spoken to Stan, briefly before the ceremony, and Stan had been all nervous energy, fluttering hands and posture held brittle at the line of his back and shoulders. But there was something else, too. Anticipation, Richie realized later. Like there was something good just about to bubble over the surface.

Richie didn’t know if these things were always quite so literal, but he watched Stan speak that day and felt like he got a glimpse of the man Stan would become. The man Richie wishes so badly he got to meet. He thinks that maybe Stan saw them all better than they ever realized.

Stan had said, Maybe I don’t want to forget.  

And maybe that was always the point. 

They’d done this once, even if Richie doesn’t remember being there for it. They’d done the forgetting, and it hasn’t seemed to do any of them any favors. Hadn’t they all spent the day recovering totems for the things they weren't able to let go of? Stan had realized it before any of them. That the forgetting was the easy part. So easy that they’d accidentally forgotten all the good things too.

For as long as he can remember, Richie has wanted to leave Derry and never look back. But he’d never realized how much he’d be leaving behind. And maybe he’ll never get to go back, maybe he’ll never get another shot at it, but he can stay now. He can stay with his friends and try for something good. He thinks he’ll probably always carry those things with him, that the phantom weight of an old arcade token will always weigh down his pocket. But maybe it won’t always be so heavy.

“Thanks for showing up, Stanley.”

Richie stands on shaky legs, and he casts one last look around the empty room, and he leaves to rejoin his friends.

--

Richie is forty years old, or his body is at least, and his body is old enough to drink. He stumbles a bit as they leave the library, trying not to think about whether Stan’s head will still be in Mike’s refrigerator when he next opens it. Mike really should fucking move.

He comes to a stop at the top of the steps next to Eddie, hands shoved into his pockets. He looks down at Ben whose posture is mimicking his own, watching forlornly after Bill and Bev walking together further down the street.

Richie skips down the steps and claps Ben on the back, “C’mon, Haystack, let’s skedaddle. Faster we go to bed, faster we get to face all of our fucking nightmares made real. I, for one, cannot wait.”

“Beep beep, Richie,” Eddie mutters, scowling.

“Uh, you guys go on ahead, I’m- I’m gonna take the long way home, I think,” Ben says, finally tearing his eyes away from Bev’s retreating back.

“You sure, Ben?” Eddie asks, nervous. “I mean, we don’t really know if-”

“I’ll be okay, I think. It’s not gonna- I think It wants us all back in the sewers, you know?”

Richie does know. It’s like everything’s been building all this time and they’re right on the edge of it. Like a bubble- no, like a balloon about to burst.

“I’ll see you guys soon,” Ben says and then smiles. He grips Richie’s shoulder before he goes and squeezes, giving Richie a look he can’t decipher. And then he’s gone, walking in the opposite direction, hands in his pockets as he turns the corner and disappears.

Richie stands with Eddie in the quiet for a moment, feeling awkward and somewhere past tipsy.

“Alone at last, Eddie my l-”

“Do not fucking start with that, Trashmouth,” Eddie says and hops down the steps, joining Richie on the sidewalk.

“Start with what?” Richie asks, grinning. They start to walk, following the way Bill and Bev had gone.

Eddie doesn’t rise to the bait though, and maybe it’s something to do with the drinking, but instead of snapping back like usual he just says, quietly, “You know what, Richie.”

Richie swallows thickly. He’s spent the better part of his adolescence flirting with Eddie, trying to get a rise out of him. He’s not sure what it means that he can’t do it now.

“Alright,” he says, under his breath. He feels his shoulders inch up toward his ears and forces himself to relax.

“We should do something,” he tries, kicking a rock ahead of him. It rolls into Eddie’s path. Eddie ignores it.

“It’s literally one a.m. What exactly do you have in mind?” Eddie asks doubtfully.

“I don’t know, Eds. Last night on earth, what do you want?”

Eddie’s brow furrows. “What are you looking for, Eddie?” Eddie recites in a creepy voice, then blinks dumbly as though it’d tumbled out of his mouth unbidden.

What-” Richie starts, but Eddie interrupts him.

“Nothing, shit. It’s nothing.” Eddie stops and runs his hands through his hair, looking at Richie a little helplessly, “It’s just- I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.” And he looks so put out, like it’s the worst question Richie could have asked, that Richie can’t help but laugh at him, even as Eddie’s mouth twists into a scowl.

Richie heads him off before Eddie can get at him, “Eds, do you trust me?”

“Don’t call me Eds. And no, Richie, I stopped trusting you after you stole my pop rocks in the third grade.”

Eddie,” Richie says, laughing around his name.

Eddie glares at him, then, “Okay, yes, fine. I trust you.”

“Great! Let’s go.” Richie starts walking again with purpose, leaving Eddie to catch up with him.

They walk for about five minutes, Eddie trying to get their destination out of Richie all the while.

“Come on, you’re really not gonna tell me?”

“No, Eddie, that’s why it’s called a surprise. People like surprises. Unclench, dude.”

They round the corner on Center Street where the small twenty-four hour gas station and adjacent market are still open. Richie pulls Eddie inside and scans the shelves. 

He turns on his heel, quick enough that Eddie bumps up against his chest. Eddie huffs, takes a step back and glares up at him, says, “What?

“So, before- You know what I was wishing I had right now? More than anything else in the world?”

Eddie shrugs, eyes darting around the store, “I don’t know, Richie, Funyons?”

“No,” Richie says, and waits.

Eddie taps his foot, rolls his eyes and says, “No, what?”

Richie grins, fumbles with the display at his back, and brandishes the package inches from Eddie’s face. 

Razzles.”

Eddie goes on looking at him unimpressed, but there’s a small smile tugging at his lips. It’s one of Richie’s top five favorite Kaspbrak looks, for sure. 

“Razzles are for kids,” Eddie says.

Richie beams at him, “Exactly.”

“I can’t believe they still make those fucking things,” Eddie says as Richie pays the tired looking teenager at the register.

“Guess this place hasn’t changed that much after all,” Richie says while the bell on the door signals their exit.

“Yeah, guess not,” Eddie says, quiet.

Richie swings around to stand in front of Eddie and tears at the bag with his teeth. Eddie holds out his hand expentantly.

“You’re sure you can handle all this sugar?” Richie asks, seriously. “Sure you won’t go into shock?”

Eddie curls three fingers on the hand he’s holding out to flip Richie off, “You may want to save some of that biting wit for your act, asshole.”

Richie grins and shakes a few candies loose into Eddie’s hand, then does the same for himself. They pop them into their mouths at the same time and grin dumbly at each other for a few seconds until Eddie’s eye twitches. Richie’s brow furrows.

“Don’t.”

Eddie winces at him, “Rich...”

“Don’t you dare-”

“Richie, these are not good.”

"No!” Richie wails, spinning on the spot and leveling a betrayed look at Eddie. “I can’t believe you’ve done this to me, Eds. You- You got old.”

Eddie can’t hold back his grin, but he looks like he’s trying to at least, still chewing. “It’s like chewing on wet chalk, dude.”

“It’s a candy and a gum!” Richie says, not bothering to keep his voice down.

“This does not count as gum. It’s like a grainy, sugar pulp.”

“That’s what gum is, you monster.”

“What kind of gum have you been chewing?”

“You’ve changed, man.”

“Give me another one, maybe I’ll change my mind.”

“I don’t think I should,” Richie sniffs. “I don’t think you deserve it.”

Eddie reaches for the package, but Richie dodges him, then holds it above his head, out of Eddie’s reach, because he can. He grins down at Eddie with all his teeth.

Eddie glares at him, and then Eddie elbows him in the stomach.

Oof- fuck,” Richie gasps, hunching over. Eddie grabs the bag from his loose grip and grins triumphantly. He eats another Razzle.

“Yeah, yeah- I hope victory is sweet, asshole,” Richie says, massaging his stomach.

“I think this shit is actively rotting my teeth, actually.”

“Good,” Richie says, and snatches the package back from him. He tilts his head back and shakes a couple into his mouth. Eddie wrinkles his nose, but doesn’t say anything.

They amble slowly down the street, taking their time. Richie nudges Eddie’s shoulder when they pass the soft serve shop and he leads them to the swing set out back. Richie falls less than gracefully into a swing, and the whole things groans under his weight, which Eddie is quick to comment on, but with enough cajoling (“Just sit on the fucking swing, Kaspbrak”), Eddie joins him. 

Richie glances sidelong at Eddie to find him smiling softly to himself, shaking his head.

“What are you smiling at?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie says. He looks at Richie, then smiles back down at his feet. “Life. Timing. Being here with you, eating Razzles.”

Richie’s heart constricts in his chest. “Eddie-”

“So much of this,” Eddie starts, face screwing up. “So much of this remembering has been shit, man. But this- being here with you, it’s like- nothing’s changed. It’s nice.”

He smiles at Richie so sincerely that Richie has trouble looking at him directly. He feels it too. Not the remembering, but the forgetting- everything he’s skipped over, he feels the loss of it like a physical presence. Something large and intangible, just out of reach. But being with his friends, being with Eddie, it almost doesn’t matter. Like he’s found his footing even as the ground underneath him fell away. He can’t put words to that feeling, doesn’t trust himself to try, and anyway, he thinks Eddie understands. So instead he says, “Hey, Eddie?”

“Mhm?” Eddie hums from far away.

“Tell me something.” Richie turns toward him, twisting the chain links of the swing, and Eddie follows suit, turning to face him. There’s something vulnerable in Eddie’s face then that scares Richie more than the clown ever did.

He swallows. 

“What color is my tongue?”

“What-” Eddie says around a startled laugh. “What?

“What color is my tongue? What color is it?” Richie sticks out his tongue and raises his eyebrows, waiting for Eddie to answer.

“It’s- It’s red, I don’t know! Red.” Eddie says, smiling fully now.

“Red-red or tongue-red?” Richie asks, garbled because he keeps his tongue out.

Eddie laughs, sounding just like he did as a kid. He presses his lips together, trying to temper his grin. It doesn’t work.

“Razzle red.”

Richie snaps his mouth shut and smiles goofily down at him. “Show me yours.”

Eddie blinks at him, “What?”

“Show me your tongue. C’mon, I showed you mine,” Richie says, winking at Eddie.

“Don’t wink at- I’m not showing you my tongue.”

Richie screws up his face in consternation, “Show me your tongue, Eds, I showed you mine.”

“I didn’t ask to see yours!”

“Eddie,” Richie says seriously. “I need to see your tongue.”

Eddie stares at him, chest puffing up, and Richie knows he’s got him. Eddie’s mouth twists up against a grin, and he narrows his eyes at Richie, and he darts out his tongue.

Richie beams at him.

“Razzle red.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, but laughs again, and Richie wishes he could bottle it up and keep it with him. 

He picks his feet up off the ground and let’s the swing twist back forward, rocking with the momentum. He pushes back and starts properly swinging then, pumping his legs and aiming high.

“I bet I could still beat you off the jump.”

“Yeah, with those fucking grasshopper legs it’d hardly be a fair bet,” Eddie says, but he begins swinging anyway.

“Aw, Eds, don’t worry- What you lack in stature, you make up for in pure rage.”

“I don’t lack anything in stature,” Eddie snaps. “And don’t call me that.”

“Whatever you say,” Richie says, grinning.

They get going in a good rhythm, and Richie can’t be sure, but he thinks the whole set may be swaying with their movement. He and Eddie pass each other in perfect tandem and the whole thing screams, metal squealing at them. Eddie groans right along with it.

“This can’t be safe, dude. If I survive the clown and die of tetanus anyway, I’m haunting your ass.”

“That a threat or a promise?” Richie asks around a smirk.

Eddie gives him the finger when he swings past and Richie laughs out loud.

“Ready, Spaghetti?”

“Do not fucking call me that.”

“One-”

“Richie, this is a bad idea.”

“Two-”

“One of us is definitely gonna break a hip, man.”

“Three!” 

Richie launches himself off the swing, doesn’t look to see if Eddie follows him, knowing he will. He lands on his feet, sort of, but the balance is all wrong—it’s easy to forget he’s had this body for all of two days—so he trips indelicately and rolls on his elbow, landing flat on his back. Which would be fine, actually, if Eddie had not come careening down right after him. And in a truly made-for-TV turn of events, Eddie lands sprawled half on top of him.

“I told you,” Eddie groans, “Death by swing set. Hardly a cool way to go.” 

“You’re not dead yet, Eds,” Richie manages, enjoying the weight of Eddie on top of him. “And we were never cool.”

Eddie huffs and pushes himself up on Richie’s chest. He looks down at Richie, lips quirked in a small smile, and Richie’s stomach flips.

“Still Losers, I guess,” Eddie says softly, and Richie can feel him breathe where their chests are pressed together.

“Always,” Richie says faintly. Eddie’s eyes dart over Richie’s face, and Richie’s not sure what he’s looking for, what he’s hoping to see reflected back at him, but whatever it is he must find it because then Eddie is ducking down and closing his eyes and kissing him.

The whole thing lights Richie up from the inside. He feels like he might be shaking all over, but his hand comes up of its own volition and grips Eddie’s waist, and it helps. Grounds him, a little. Then before it really starts, Eddie pulls away. He opens his eyes and stares down at Richie and there’s something impossibly sad about the picture of it. 

Richie takes in a shuddering breath which Eddie must feel because he doesn’t move from where he’s leaned up against Richie’s chest. He looks at him until he can’t seem to take it anymore, and then Eddie looks away, up toward the sky above them, and takes a heavy breath.

Richie doesn’t know why his heart aches the way it does, feeling impossibly young all the sudden. His head falls back against the ground, and he trains his own gaze up at the sky too, and they stay like that, listening to each other breathe.

--

Richie is—fuck, he doesn’t know—somehow both sixteen and forty, and is the most terrified he’s ever been, and also, absurdly, a little bit turned on.

“I can’t believe you fucking stabbed a dude, Eds.”

“It wasn’t a dude, it was Bowers, and don’t call me that,” Eddie says miserably.

Richie tries to grin at him. He doubts it’s all that reassuring, but Eddie isn’t really looking at him anyway.

It had been less than ten minutes since they’d parted ways in the hallway and Richie had collapsed fully clothed onto his bed when he heard a dull thud against his door and the absolutely terrifying sound of Eddie weakly calling his name from the other side. He’d found Eddie on the ground outside his door, leaning up against the wall. He looked up when Richie opened the door and said, “Bowers is in my room,” around a fucking mouthful of blood. Richie’s knees ached as he hit the floor hard, hands fluttering uselessly around Eddie’s face, wanting to touch and not wanting to hurt. He then did the only reasonable thing to come to mind and started yelling loudly for Bill, hands finally settling on Eddie’s shoulders.

They’re in Richie’s bathroom now, because Eddie’s is smeared with his own blood. The others are on the other side of the door, trying to get ahold of Mike. Evidently Bowers had climbed out of the fucking window, because Ben hadn’t found any trace of him in Eddie’s room. Well, aside from the missing shower curtain.

Eddie had insisted on dressing his own wound, because of course he did, and as soon as he was finished, staggered over to the toilet and sat down heavily on the closed lid. Richie sits down on the tile in front of him, hands hanging where they’re propped up on his own knees. He wants, badly, to reach out and touch Eddie. He doesn’t.

“It was still pretty cool,” Richie says, awkwardly, not knowing how to say anything else. “You’ve even got a sexy scar now.”

Eddie glares at him. “Yeah, Richie, the hole in my face makes me feel really sexy.”

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but love is a battlefield.”

Thanks, Rich.”

“I’m here to help,” Richie tells him seriously.

Eddie’s eyes flicker up to meet his and there’s some emotion there that Richie can’t decipher, but, god, he wants to.

“Eddie, I-” Richie swallows around a lump in his throat. “I’m sorry we didn’t stay friends. I’m sorry I left.”

Eddie shakes his head, smiles softly at him, “Richie, it doesn’t- it doesn’t matter anymore, okay? Growing up is hard, man. Whatever it was that you were going through, it’s- it’s okay, alright? We’ve moved on.”

“Have we though? No, seriously, Eds, have we?” Richie asks, feeling desperate. “Because that fucking clown is using the same things to scare me that it did when I was thirteen fucking years old. Are we- are we really so different now?”

Eddie’s shoulders fall and he looks at Richie with something heavy. He shrugs and says, “Maybe not.”

“I’m glad we came back,” Richie admits, quietly. “I mean, I’m not-” he gestures at Eddie’s face, “Not that , you know, but- coming back here, it’s good, right?”

Eddie’s forehead pinches. “I don’t know, Rich. I mostly feel like being back here is all the worst parts of being a kid and being grown up—just as afraid and twice as neurotic.”

Richie huffs out a laugh, says, “Yeah, but I just mean- Coming back and seeing you-” Richie stutters, “Seeing you guys again—it’s almost worth it, right?”

“Richie…” Eddie starts, and it sounds all wrong. He hears pity in Eddie’s voice, or something like it, and it’s unbearable, so Richie squeezes his eyes shut and does the only thing that comes easy to him—barrels in head first.

“Do you think things would’ve been different? If- if we had remembered? If I’d said something, back then?”

Richie steals himself for whatever expression he might see on Eddie’s face and opens his eyes. But he doesn’t find pity there, or anything close to it. Eddie just- Eddie just looks sad. And it’s almost worse.

Eddie opens his mouth, but no words come out. He closes his eyes and shakes his head as if to clear it, and when he opens them again he lets out a sigh.

“I don’t know,” Eddie shrugs.

Richie feels himself wince and wishes he wouldn’t, wishes he wasn’t so fucking obvious. Wishes he wasn’t so scared. Because Eddie had kissed him, and still Richie can’t bring himself to tell him all the things he wishes he could. Because now would be the time, right? If the others’ reaction to Bowers’ presence was any indication, it seems like they’re rapidly approaching go-time. And fuck, if in the face of certain death-by-clown weren’t enough of a reason, what would be?”

“Eddie, I- I still don’t remember anything about the last… twenty years,” Richie says, sounding strangled. “But I don’t- I don’t much care to remember because-” Richie’s face twists, “Because it’s all wrong.” Richie looks him the eye. “Because you weren’t there.” Eddie stares back at him, wide-eyed. “And I’d like to believe that if you and I could’ve- If I had told you back then and we- we didn’t forget, then- then you wouldn’t be married to someone else right now.”

Eddie takes in a sharp breath, his eyebrows pinched up. He ducks his head and looks down at his hands where they’re twisting in his lap.

Richie,” Eddie says, sounding heartsick. “I- I’m not gonna lie to you, Rich. These last few days, I- I’ve felt things that- that I didn’t know I could feel anymore. That I didn’t remember feeling in the first place.” He looks back up at Richie, still looking so sad. “It’s not fair that we didn’t get the chance, before, but- but, Richie, you can’t- you can’t just turn back time.”

Richie’s face does crumple then, and he looks down and to the side to hide it from Eddie. He presses his lips together and holds his breath until he’s sure he won’t do something stupid like start crying.

“Why not?” he whispers, feeling like the teenager he is.

He tilts his head to look back at Eddie and hates the expression he sees there.

“I moved on, Richie,” Eddie says, and sucks in a shaking breath. “You moved on. We- we’ve gone down different paths for so- so long.”

“Do you love her?” Richie asks before he can stop himself, needing to hear it and hating himself for it.

Eddie looks at him, brow furrowed. Richie can see his jaw tighten.

“I chose Myra, Rich. A long time ago. We care about each other, you know?” Eddie says, appealing. “And even if it’s not…” He pauses, shakes his head, starts again. “You don’t always get the dream house, Richie, but- but you get awfully close.”

Richie stares at him even as he feels his heart splintering in his chest. He doesn’t notice the tears until Eddie’s face breaks and he reaches up in an aborted motion that ends with his hands wringing in his lap again.

“Please don’t- please don’t cry, Richie.”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Richie gasps out, trying to give Eddie a reassuring smile. He tilts his head back and blinks away the tears. He looks back at Eddie and nods, tries a smile again, trying to reassure him. “I’ll be fine, Eds. I promise.”

Eddie just looks back at him, chest rising and falling heavily, face wound up with worry like always. Richie stands on shaky legs and resists the temptation wrap his arms tightly around himself, opting to shove his hands into his jacket pockets instead. He tries to think of something to say, tries to think of what he’s wanted to say, “Eddie, I-” but what good would it do, now, anyway.

“I want you to be so, so happy.”

And it’s good enough, he thinks, and he turns and lets himself out of the room.

--

Richie is somehow sixteen and somehow forty, and it doesn’t matter at all, because his best friend is dying in his arms.

At least, that’s what he thinks is happening, vaguely, in some faraway corner of his mind that is still, impossibly, processing anything about the situation around him.

Eddie,” Richie says, again, for the hundredth time, like it’s the only thing running through his mind. Probably because it is. Eddie, Eddie, Eddie.

“Hey, Richie, I gotta tell you something,” Eddie mumbles, sounding not entirely there. Like he’s already halfway gone. Richie shoves the thought aside along with the bile creeping up his throat.

“What, what’s up, buddy?” Richie asks and even now wishes he didn’t sound quite so earnest.

Eddie looks like he’s struggling with it for a second, mouth moving around words he can’t form, but he looks up and meets Richie’s eyes, and says, “I fucked your mother.”

Richie blinks, then gasps out a surprised laugh, says, “Fuck you.” A hint of a smile fights its way across Eddie’s tired face and he lets out a gurgling chuckle. Richie laughs again at the absurdity of it all, and it ends on a whimper. He feels tears falling down his face but makes no move to wipe them away. 

Eddie’s smile falls and his face pinches with that same old worry he always carries with him. “Please don’t cry, Richie.”

Richie tries to smile at him, nods a little, but can’t speak to reassure Eddie this time, afraid that anything he says now would be punctuated with a sob. He presses his jacket more insistently at the gaping hole in Eddie’s chest and feels Eddie’s hand come up to cover his own there.

“You wanna know a secret?” Eddie whispers, swallowing around the blood in his mouth. His eyelashes flutter as he stares up at Richie. “You’re the sweetest guy I’ve ever known.”

Richie’s heart pounds in his chest, even as he imagines it breaking. And what comes next- He knows he shouldn’t. He knows he’s so selfish for it, for putting the weight of his feelings, the same feelings that have been dragging Richie down for years, onto Eddie, now of all times, but- But Richie has been carrying this thing around for a long time, for as long as he’s known Eddie, almost, and it’s never been simple, but it’s always been true. Loving Eddie has always come easily to Richie. And, fuck, Richie just wants to say it. Just once.

"I love you, Eddie,” he whispers, eyes wet. “You're my best friend."

Eddie just looks up at him, eyebrows pinched up like always, a small, exhausted smile curling on his mouth. Eddie’s hand grips weakly at Richie’s over the jacket and Richie wonders if he’s been looking at him like this the whole time.

“Richie,” Eddie says and shakes his head like Richie’s being stupid. “I’ve always loved you.”

Richie feels his face crumble and swallows down the sob working its way out of his throat. He tries to smile for Eddie, tries to be brave even as the tears stain his face. 

Eddie’s eyes lose their focus and Richie feels terror grip his heart. But Eddie’s gaze just shifts over the cavern around them, brows furrowing again, and Richie dimly tunes in to the sounds of their friends yelling taunts at the clown behind him.

“Richie, you have to go help them,” Eddie says faintly, trying to sound stern.

Richie shakes his head, “I’m not leaving you, Eddie.”

“Rich, you have to do it together,” Eddie says, eyes finding Richie’s again. “You know you do.”

“What about you?” Richie asks wetly, sounding like a child.

“I’ll be here,” Eddie whispers, and he looks so tired, but he looks determined too. “Richie, it’s okay. Trust me.”

And Richie is loathe to accept it, but he feels the pull, so much bigger than him—the pull to join their friends, to see to Its end, even as everything inside him screams that his place is at Eddie’s side. So he says, “Okay,” and he moves his hand out from under Eddie’s and covers his instead, nudging him to keep pressure on the jacket. He squeezes Eddie’s hand, once, and then gets up and stumbles over to the dias behind him.

It’s over quickly. Richie doesn’t even know what he’s screaming, eventually—he thinks he actually calls the clown “frizzy” at some point—but it doesn’t matter, because it works. The five of them grip Its heart and together choke the life from it, and it feels almost anticlimactic, even as Richie’s heart thunders in his chest. 

And just like that, it’s over. Twenty-seven years and eons before that, all that terror and death floating to ash from their palms. Richie feels something loosen its vice-like grip inside him, feeling lighter. And then Beverly’s grip on his arm brings him back to the moment.

“Eddie,” he says. And then, more insistently, “Eddie.

But Eddie’s gone by the time he gets back.

--

Richie is sixteen years old, no matter how old he looks, and Eddie is gone.

The others drag Richie kicking and screaming from the wreckage that was once the house on Neibolt Street and Richie doesn’t know how they can stand it, can stand to leave Eddie down there in the dark. It seems absurd that after all they’ve been through, after everything that brought Richie here, to this place, that this is how it ends.

Richie struggles against Ben and Mike’s grip and screams Eddie’s name like somehow he’ll hear him calling. Like he could shake loose of their grasp and still get back in there and find Eddie waiting for him.

Richie doesn’t know how long it is before he stops yelling. Between one minute and the next he’s fighting and screaming, and then he’s kneeling in the dirt, shellshocked and staring at an empty plot.

Richie has spent his whole life feeling crushed beneath the weight of his own feelings, too potent and too immense and always, always too much. But all that is nothing, nothing to this feeling now—the one that rises slowly from his gut and unfurls around him. It squeezes a vice grip around his heart. It swallows him whole.

Richie falls forward on his hands and gags around dry sobs that tear their way up from his chest. He thinks, dumbly, of Eddie’s inhaler that was never real but somehow always worked anyway. Then he thinks about how Eddie’s inhaler is buried deep under the ground with the rest of him. And then Richie focuses on the feeling of the dirt and grit beneath his fingers instead.

Then there’s a hand on his shoulder and Bill is kneeling beside him. Bill says, quietly, “I know where we can go. C-come on, Richie.” And it’s Bill, so Richie follows him.

--

Richie is sixteen years old and standing at the precipice of the cliff overlooking the quarry. He thinks it must all feel very clandestine to the others, but he had swam here with Eddie not three days prior (give or take twenty-four years) and the only thing he thinks of is that it’ll be colder than they remember.

Bev jumps first and Ben follows soon after. Bill jumps next, and then Mike squeezes Richie’s arm once before following Bill over the jump. 

It feels like some kind of crossroads. Like he could take the jump and clean himself in the dirty water and something will settle and he will begin to live a life without Eddie in it. Or he could just- not.

This other Richie whose body he’s been inhabiting for the last three days has lived without Eddie for more than two decades. He’s lived more of his life without Eddie than with him. But this Richie, sixteen year old Richie who cried at the Kissing Bridge over the letters he’d carved there a lifetime ago, hasn’t lived a life without Eddie in it since he was six years old. And it feels absurd that he should start now.

In the end, it’s not much of a choice at all.

Richie tugs his shoes back on and stumbles away from the cliff, hops the railing and makes his way out of the undergrowth, back up to the street. His feet carry him without thought, and that’s fine, he knows where he’s going.

The bridge looms large in front of him and Richie stops short of the tunnel, making a b-line. For all the times he’s rode his bike past it, avoiding looking over lest anyone take notice, he knows the spot well. 

The carving is faded, an attempt made to paint over it at some point, looks like. But Richie had been careful to carve the grooves in deep, and it’s held up quite well, all things considered. Against all odds, has weathered the last 27 years. Figures.

Richie runs a finger over the notched wood, hands still dirtied from the soil of Neibolt Street. Richie squeezes his eyes shut tight and feels tears run in tracks down his cheeks.

“Take it back,” he whispers. “Please take it back.”

He doesn’t realize he’s breathing in fitful gasps until his breaths start to even out. His grip on the wood in front of him loosens, but he keeps his eyes shut tight. A gust of wind picks up around him and Richie leans into it, a feeling of calm enveloping him. And then he doesn’t feel much of anything at all.

--

When Richie opens his eyes he is, all of him, sixteen years old. He’s wearing the same faded t-shirt with the same ratty jeans he had picked up from his bedroom floor three days ago, and it’s the same scrawny sixteen year old body underneath. He claps a hand to his mouth and bites back a sob, turns around to the carving now behind his back, chest heaving. 

The lines stand out starker, decades fresher than they were moments before. Richie bows his head and breathes through it, eyes wet, feeling relief pour through him like nothing else. And then-

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Richie?” 

Eddie’s voice cuts through the afternoon and Richie’s head pops up so fast he feels a twinge of whiplash.

“Eddie.”

Richie twists around and finds sixteen year old Eddie Kaspbrak standing in front of him in all his running shorts-clad glory. He’s looking at Richie with a tight jaw, chest heaving and cheeks tinged pink with righteous anger, and Richie has never, ever seen anything more beautiful.

“Seriously?” Eddie asks, fists clenched tight. “You’re just gonna tell me to fuck off and then run away from-”

But Eddie doesn’t manage to finish the sentence because Richie has stumbled to his feet and crashed into Eddie, wrapping his arms tight around his shoulders and burying his face in his neck. 

Eddie stumbles backward from the force of it, hands coming up to grab Richie’s shoulders. After a second, Richie feels him relax and wrap his arms snugly around Richie’s waist.

“Rich, what the fuck?” Eddie asks softly.

“I’m just really glad to see you, Eds,” Richie says wetly, fingers flexing against the fabric of Eddie’s t-shirt.

“That’s really interesting, Richie,” Eddie says, voice muffled against Richie’s shoulder. “Because just five minutes ago you were running the fuck away from me.”

Richie shudders out a breath, shakes his head and says, “I was being stupid.”

“Oh, so just like every other day, then.”

Richie laughs and pulls away, cuffing Eddie’s shoulder gently.

“Asshole,” he returns good-naturedly, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Eddie looks back at him warily, but there’s a bemused sort of smile playing at his mouth too. 

“Can we actually get out of here, though?” Eddie asks, wringing his hands. “Your face is, like, three different colors. If you don’t wanna go home, I’m sure we could get Bill or Stan to-”

Richie gasps and feels his knees go weak, swaying on the spot. Eddie cuts off and steps toward Richie looking alarmed, hand shooting out to grasp Richie’s elbow.

“I’m good, I’m cool,” Richie gasps out, clutching Eddie’s forearm.

Stan.

The realization, then, that he gets them both back, that they’ve got another chance at it, buoys him like nothing else. He looks at Eddie and lets out something that’s half a laugh and half a sob and blinks away the tears clouding his eyes, helpless to stop the grin spreading across his face.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Richie?” Eddie asks, his eyebrows pinched up in worry the same as ever, the same as always. And Richie thinks back to man he becomes, the man he grows up to be, and Richie wants, desperately, to be there to see it.

It’s with this thought in mind that he steps forward, closing the distance. He raises a hand toward Eddie’s face, hovering there uncertainly. Eddie stares up at him with wide eyes.

“Eddie,” he says, and then can think of nothing else to say. So he slides his hand up against Eddie’s jaw and leans forward to kiss him.

Eddie is stiff against him, but he raises his face up slightly when Richie kisses him, so Richie will take what he can get. He’s pretty sure his hands are shaking where they’re touching Eddie at his cheek and forearm and he hopes Eddie can’t feel it.

Richie pulls away after a few seconds and keeps his eyes shut tight, feeling nervous. He stays close to Eddie though, breathing the same air. He rubs his thumb across Eddie’s cheek and waits for a moment, and then two, and then when Eddie makes no motion to move away, Richie leans in again to press another kiss to his lips.

This time Eddie seems to come alive under his hands. He surges forward, tilts his head and slots their lips together more suredly, making Richie whimper against his mouth. Eddie’s hands come up to Richie’s chest, and Richie gets an arm around his waist, pulling him in closer. 

Richie opens his mouth, deepens the kiss, and it’s truly a revelatory experience, until Eddie shoves him away, hand flying up to his mouth.

Richie, you have blood in your mouth!”

Richie blinks at him, feeling dazed. Then he sees the bright red stain on Eddie’s lips, remembers the beating he had gotten a few minutes (four days, and also 24 years) ago, and he can’t help the short laugh that bubbles up from his chest. He snaps his mouth shut, smile twisting across his lips, trying and failing to look contrite.

Eddie stares at him with wide eyes. Then he seems to realize that he’s still got his fingers pressed wondrously to his lips and quickly drops his hand, clenching a tight fist at his side instead.

“I- What?” Eddie asks incredulously, gaping at Richie. He opens and closes his mouth a few times around, Richie imagines, a number of questions before finally snapping it shut. “No, nope! We need to get you cleaned up.”

Eddie nods to himself determinedly, and he’s blushing like crazy and looks a little furious, but not mad. He looks much the same as he usually does at Richie, actually, and Richie makes no move to hide the dopey grin that’s spread wide across his own face.

“Come on,” Eddie says, trying for stern. 

Richie grabs his hand, twines their fingers together and says, “Lead the way, Eds.”

Eddie stares down at their hands, then up at Richie, looking confused and a little alarmed.

“I-” he says, then takes a breath. “Don’t call me that.” Eddie’s mouth sets in a hard line, but a blush tinges his cheeks pink and there’s a tease of a pleased smile playing around his lips.

And Richie doesn’t know yet how he’ll manage to save Stan and Eddie and all the rest of them, how he’ll find a way to keep them. But there’s time yet to fix it. And in any case, the boy he loves is leading him away and just at the moment he is helpless to do anything but follow.

Eddie doesn’t let go of his hand.