Surprisingly, it starts with Richie and Ben.
Richie comes in hot, storms into the Townhouse and up to his room, past Ben and Bev doing their Ben and Bev things. It fills him with a longing he doesn’t know how to name. A longing he fucking forgot for twenty-seven years but felt nonetheless which doesn’t seem fair. He should have gotten a break when he couldn’t even remember why he was so… sad, desperate, empty. He shouldn’t have had to yearn when he couldn’t remember what he was yearning for.
Ben follows him up. Ben, which is so strange he almost laughs as he throws his dirty laundry back into his duffle bag.
Bev sitting right next to him and Ben offers to go calm him down.
“Rich,” he says softly, coming up behind him but leaving a respectful distance. “Hey, what’s wrong? What did you see?”
“Oh, you know,” he says, spinning around with an air of indifference. “Just your typical walking tour of Derry. The old schoolhouse, that alley I got beat up in, the park I got beat up in, the movie theater I got beat up in, the other alley I got beat up in, that good ole Paul Bunyan statue, what a wonderful Derry landmark. Truly a culture capital of the world.”
Ben places his hand on Richie’s shoulder.
“Breathe, Richie,” he says softly.
Richie sucks in a huge breath. Apparently he had been forgetting to do that.
“I think you and Eddie were right,” Ben says with his gentle giant smile. “We should have stuck together.”
“Wow, can I get that in writing?” Richie says because no one had even succeeded in teaching him manners.
“Whatever you saw,” Ben says, moving closer. Richie hasn’t held this much intimate eye contact since… ever maybe. “It wasn’t real. It just wants us scared but when we’re together, we don’t have to be. If we’re together, we can beat It.”
And Richie, infamous for poor impulse control and making bad decisions when it comes to his mouth, leans in and kisses Ben.
Despite being surprised, Ben, an instinctively good kisser, kisses back, tender and sweet.
Despite being A Mess, Richie gives as good as he gets.
It’s as easy as breathing and lasts the space of a breath.
And then Richie pulls back, falls to the ground, and proceeds to have a complete panic attack.
(All of this two minutes before Bev and Bill relive a kiss from three decades ago that, just like then, feels almost like something but tragically not enough, not yet.)
“Where’s Eddie’s inhaler when you need it,” Richie wheezes. Ben pulls Richie’s hand to rest over his chest, like feeling Ben’s pec will in anyway help Richie in the middle of the sexuality crisis of the century.
“Just breathe,” Ben says, lacing their fingers together. “Just like this, okay? C’mon, Richie, you can do it. Just breathe with me.”
“I’m sorry,” he gasps and screws his eyes shut. “Fuck. Shit. I’m so sorry.”
Of all the people to kiss. Ben Hanscom, the straightest man Richie has ever met.
“It’s okay,” Ben says. And then says again another fifteen times since it doesn’t seem like Richie is getting the message.
“Don’t tell them,” Richie says, gathering the fabric of Ben’s shirt in his hand. “Please, Ben. Please don’t tell them.”
“Okay,” he says softly, rubbing circles onto Richie’s shoulder. “Okay, I won’t.”
Something downstairs thumps and they both flinch.
“Bev,” Richie says, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“I’ll go check on her,” Ben says, springing to his feet. “You stay here, okay? Breathe. I’ll be right back.”
He shuffles out the door and Richie takes a moment to exhale shakily before standing and grabbing his duffle bag.
Ten minutes later finds Richie sitting in a Temple, remembering the most badass bar mitzvah he’s ever been to.
He remembers after, jumping down the steps to meet Stan as he paced in that brisk, sharp way of his on the sidewalk outside.
“That was amazing, Stanley,” he remembers saying, too loud, always too loud. “Holy fuck.”
And then he reached Stan and Stan had stopped pacing, had stepped towards Richie, and had kissed him precisely on the mouth. It was in that middle school way that didn’t really count, like a high five but with lips. Richie had lit up from the inside like a sparkler.
Stan had stumbled a step back and blinked.
“My dad’s gonna kill me,” he said, eyes darting over Richie’s shoulder to the entrance of the Temple.
“Yeah, but it’ll be fucking worth it, huh?”
He remembers rushing out of the Jade Orient not even twenty four hours ago with six Losers, an incomplete set, and almost plowing over Stan in the parking lot.
Stan. Alive. Standing. Pale as death but there, curls limp, hands shaking just as bad as Richie’s.
Mike rushed at him, nearly knocking him off his feet, sweeping him up, hugging him tight, spinning him around, burying his face in Stan’s neck. Stan planted his shaky hands on Mike’s back and smiled weakly.
“What did I miss?” he asked dryly once his feet were on the ground again. They gathered around him, reaching out, hands on elbows and shoulders and waist, anything to feel him there, real and warm and alive. For an electric moment, they were all connected.
There were cuts dotting the edges of Stan’s face, angry red like they were fresh. Richie almost threw up again.
“Jesus, what happened to you?” Eddie demanded. “Do you want those to get infected? Christ, does anyone have any fucking Neosporin? Never mind I have some in my car, c’mon.”
“Thanks, Eds,” Stan had said as Eddie grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the most intimate group hug in Derry history.
“Twenty seven years!” Eddie had barked, throwing his hands up. “Twenty seven fucking years I’ve gone without hearing that stupid nickname.”
And Stan had looked right at Richie over Eddie’s shoulder, his eyes the same wonderful warm hazel, and smiled.
Richie had swallowed hard, had thought, Oh no . But for the first time in a long time, maybe his whole life, at least since that summer, standing in a Chinese restaurant parking lot in the worst town in the world, he felt whole.
They follow Bill back to Neibolt. The Derry reunion tour would not be complete without it.
And Ben of course was right, the same way Bev was back that summer. Together they were powerful. Together they could beat anything.
There’s a moment, where they hold hands in the middle of the cavern standing around that small blazing fire of tokens, where the seven of them are united. Something about that link, the complete circuit from hand to hand, has a feeling large and all encompassing, warm and raw and real, coursing through them. It’s easy to mistake it for bravery or strength. That’s probably what they thought it was as kids.
They’re old enough now, an understanding passes through them.
It’s love. It always has been.
The ritual doesn’t work but they make it out alive. All of them. Lucky seven.
They head to the quarry.
Bev jumps first and Stan jumps last, just like that summer. But Stan does jump and once he joins them down there in the water, it’s over.
They circle Richie when he breaks, hold tight to him even as that crystalline understanding of what they are and will always be to each other starts to fade into the same old insecurities.
They look away when Ben and Bev kiss, feeling that yearning, that longing, that missing piece that’s haunted them their whole lives, that they finally know what to call even as they pretend that they don’t.
They walk back to the Townhouse dripping wet, hands scar-free.
Mike leaves the Townhouse to head to the library even though leaving the group still feels dangerous, a rubber band snapping, something wonderful breaking.
Bill goes with him, without asking, just follows him out the door, but even though he’s not alone something has changed.
The town is quiet, their bones ache. They don’t check to see if Bowers is still in the library proper. They head up to Mike’s room.
“You should bring some stuff, spend the night with us over at the Townhouse,” Bill says, quietly, choosing each word carefully so he doesn’t stutter over them.
“Alright,” Mike says softly, chest full of something unspeakable, a cavernous hollow of twenty seven years of loss and grief and loneliness, the worst kind, the knowing what you’ve been missing kind.
He packs much more that just one night’s change of clothes. His hands shake as they hover over the piles of paper, notebooks of research he’s compiled.
“You did it, Mikey,” Bill says, coming up behind him, resting a hand between his shoulders.
Mike shakes his head. “I almost-”
“You d-didn’t,” he says. “We did it. B-B-Because of you, Mike. You did this.”
“Bill, I’m so sorry,” Mike says, head falling against his chest. He thinks he might crumble, just fall against these old creaky floorboards. He’s done it before.
“Don’t,” Bill says, warm hands on his shoulders, turning him around, away from his desk, into an embrace like home. “Mike.”
“I-” His chest heaves. He buries his face in Bill’s shoulder, squeezes his eyes shut against the warm flannel.
Bill holds him close, one hand on the back of his head fingers in his hair, the other rubbing circles into his back. He presses his mouth against Mike’s temple.
“God, Mike,” he whispers. “You… you did this. You b-b-brought us b-back. And it’s over because of you. We’re together again. All because of you.”
“Bill,” he says through sniffles. He lets his arms slip around Bill’s waist. He clings, revels in the feeling of being held. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mikey,” he says, soft and sure. He kisses his forehead again, wet and open mouthed, toeing the boundary of what could be considered platonic. Neither of them care.
Stan knocks on the bathroom door even though it’s already partially open.
“Come in,” Bev calls.
He slips in, keeps the door exactly as it was. She’s standing a few feet away from the sink, leaning towards it, scrubbing up her arms.
Stan moves around her carefully and sits on the edge of the closed toilet seat. He doesn’t say anything, just watches her and eyes the bathtub out of the corner of his gaze.
Eventually she smiles tightly and turns off the sink.
“I can’t seem to feel clean,” she admits quietly.
“It’s always you and all that blood,” he says and then winces a little, sneaking another anxious peak at the tub.
Bev watches him and bites her lip but doesn’t say anything. They haven’t talked about the Deadlights and what she may or may not have seen in them. They don’t talk about him coming back to the Townhouse with tears down the front of his shirt that left him spiraling on the foot of the stairs before Bowers attacked. Or when they reconvened in the cavern and his sleeves were soaked wet and blood splattered across his palms.
He stands abruptly, shakes his head out just a little and grabs a washcloth from the rack.
“It’s under the fingernails,” he says. “And behind your neck. At least that’s what usually helps me.”
He runs cold water over the washcloth and hands it over. For a second their fingers linger.
“Could you do it?” she asks breathlessly. Stan swallows once and nods, taking her hand in his, carefully running the cloth beneath her nails, swiping away the dried blood there.
“Stan,” she says. Her voice shakes.
“Beverly,” he replies evenly. He finishes one hand, reaches for the next.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she says.
He swallows again, closes his eyes for a second.
“I almost-” he starts.
“I know,” she says. She brings her clean hand up to rest at the collar of his shirt. She kisses him carefully, right at the edge of his jaw where his pulse flutters beneath his skin. “But you’re here.”
He nods. “I’m here.”
They don’t leave.
They should. They have jobs. They have vacations waiting and divorces waiting and lives waiting or new lives to start.
They don’t leave.
They group in each other’s rooms for parts of the day, or Mike’s place for an afternoon, and they spend nights in the Townhouse’s lounge, Richie or Bill playing barkeep. They get buzzed and laugh and argue and sprawl over each other. They stumble up to their rooms as the sun starts to rise and creep back downstairs at midday to charge another night to their credit cards.
A week goes by just like that. Together.
“Alright, alright,” Richie says, flopping upside down on the ugliest couch in the lounge, his favorite. Stan finds himself unfortunately in the danger zone, like he does more often than not, batting Richie’s socked feet away as they swing wildly. “But who here hasn’t had gay thoughts about Bill?”
Bill chokes on his beer. Eddie throws a pillow at him to hide his blush.
Bev raises her hand.
“Liar,” Richie says. His glasses fall off his face, hitting the carpet with a muffled thump.
“Richie,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“What?” he says. He’s a little drunk, but not a little too drunk. “We all had big stinking crushes on little Bill and I’m just brave enough to admit it. I think it was the bike. Nothing sexier than a personified bike.”
“I’m gonna take that as a compliment,” Bill says, lifting his drink. “Thanks, Rich.”
“Anytime,” Richie says, blowing him a kiss. “Ben, don’t get mopey, we all had a little crush on you too. The primary sources collection always got me hot under the collar.”
“I wasn’t…” Ben starts, cheeks going pink. Mike smiles softly at him. At them. The ways they haven’t changed.
“Beep beep,” Bev says, engaging in an intense dance of exaggerated eyebrow movements with Richie.
“Everyone has a crush on everyone back then,” Stan says resolutely. He meets Richie’s eyes when he looks up at him. It’s knowing. It’s understanding.
“At one point or another,” Bev adds diplomatically to ease the sudden tension in the room.
It’s not entirely true and they know it even if they won’t say it. It was all of them loving the rest and not knowing what to do about it.
All points at the same time. A circle or something like it.
“She invited me back to the hotel room,” Stan says evenly.
“And?” Richie demands.
“Well, I’m trying to be a gentleman here,” he says, smiling almost roguishly.
“At least one of us is,” Eddie snaps, struggling with Richie for more space under the blanket again. They’re gonna rip the blanket any second now. Mike hovers next to Eddie’s knee in case he needs to intervene.
“Jesus, who woulda thunk, Stanley Urine has game,” Richie says.
Stan flips him off but smiles contentedly. Of all of them now, After, Stan is the boldest. He notices every movement of tension in the air, the way the winds shifts, he can spot each lingering glance, each soft sigh, each subtle revelation of feelings inevitable and now recognizable. He looks the most, long stares until someone looks back, entire conversations in glances trying to assure, trying to comfort. It’s okay. It’s them. The seven of them, fate, as they slowly grow back together, towards what they were always supposed to be.
He looks at Richie now until he starts to squirm, eyes darting over to Eddie. Eddie hasn’t looked directly at any of them lately, not since the cavern and the Deadlights and crouching over Richie and feeling something unspeakable, something more than just relief, something that had him bending down, leaning in to… to something before Bev screamed and a claw missed him inches.
“Alright, Stanley,” Richie says, abdicating the blanket to Eddie as he sits up. “Do your worst. Woo me.”
“B-beep beep, Richie,” Bill says, rolling his eyes. Bev lifts her glass in a mock toast. Richie turns to flip him off.
Stan slips down from the couch anyway, so he’s kneeling on the carpet in front of Richie. He lets his fingers brush the side of Richie’s neck, thumb hovering over the line of his jaw.
Richie jerks back around to face him and swallows hard. He blinks rapidly and opens his mouth, tilting his eyebrows like about to say some dumb joke to undercut the moment.
Stan beats him to the punch. “You have really wonderful eyes, Rich,” he says steadily. Richie’s breath hitches in his throat, lips still parted. Stan leans forward and presses a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth.
Nobody in the room breathes until he pulls back.
For a second, eyes almost falling shut, Richie tries to follow him, swaying just a little towards him like a moth to a flame before blinking hard and snapping back.
“Fuck,” Eddie says.
“Jesus, Staniel,” Richie says, a little breathless. It’s maybe the most intimate he’s ever been with someone. (Romantically intimate, emotionally intimate.) He clears his throat and slaps a hand over his chest. “Whatever will Patricia think?”
Stan rolls his eyes and pushes himself back up towards the couch next to Mike, who watches him with wide soft eyes.
“Patty and I have a thing,” he says vaguely, straightening the wrinkles out of his pants.
Richie gasps. “Am I on you hall pass? Stanley, legally you have to tell me if I’m on your hall pass.”
“What the fuck is a hall pass?” Eddie snaps.
“It’s a list of t-t-three celebrities your spouse gives you p-permission to sleep with,” Bill says. Bev raises her eyebrows. Bill shrugs and drinks.
“First of all,” Stan says. “I would not waste a slot on a hypothetical hall pass for you, Richie. Second, it’s 2016. Patty and I have an open marriage.”
He takes a sip of water like he hasn’t made every heart in the room lurch with something profound.
Richie wolf whistles. Eddie kicks his knee.
“You date other people?” Ben asks, only able to because he’s sitting the furthest from the Stan.
“Date… sleep with,” Stan says, curling his fingers on his knees.
“Stan the Man fucks ,” Richie says like a revelation.
Stan rolls his eyes. “Not as much lately, because of work and we’re old and tired. But sometimes-”
“Buenos fucking Aires!” Richie says, gasping and pointing. “You and your wife planned a sex trip! You rapscallion. Stanley the Manley!”
“Hey, Richie, can you shut the fuck up?” Eddie snaps.
Richie takes a moment to inhale deeply before diving back towards the ground, slapping a pillow across Eddie’s face. They grapple like they’re twelve again. Bill and Ben avert their eyes to pretend they’re not watching fondly. Bev doesn’t even try.
Mike turns to Stan. “And it works for you both?”
Stan nods mildly, as Eddie shoves Richie’s face into the carpet.
“Glasses!” Richie says, kicking. “Watch the glasses, you bastard!”
“It’s not for everyone,” Stan offers, but cuts a glance at Mike, another soft knowing look. “But yeah it works for us.”
Richie flops onto his back and shoves Eddie away, panting.
“Okay so three divorces and a fucking Patty. I’d say that’s breaking even for the Losers Club,” he says.
“Beep beep,” Bill says, the only one who could.
“Good for you, Stan,” Bev says. “She sounds lovely.”
“Yeah, well, she’d love to meet you all,” he says and Richie makes a sex joke and they move on.
Eddie falls asleep on the lounge floor again.
He’s always the first to drop, always more willing to wake up with a crick in his neck than lose a second with the group.
Always the most tired. They pretend like they don’t hear the screaming conversations he has on the phone with his wife in the early hours of the morning, but let themselves move closer when he joins them for breakfast, a hug here, a kiss on his uninsured cheek when it can be passed off as casual. A blanket draped over him when he curls up on the floor.
“Richie,” Bill says when the sky outside gets lighter and they start to put their dirty cups away and stand. “Your t-turn.” He gestures to Eddie.
“I’m sorry, I know Eds is the relative size and weight of a children’s bookshelf but I have fucking noodle arms,” he shoots back, waving one for emphasis.
Ben has already started up. Mike watches them from the base of the stairs.
Bill has spent most of the night carefully observing the long lingering glances between Richie and Eddie in between all the teasing and shouting, has hovered between a fear of another two of them coming together, nothing as nerve-wracking as the thought of them all pairing off, creating divisions, leaving some poor seventh wheel, and watching them with a fondness he doesn’t have words to fully explain, that two people he loves with everything he has are inching towards a happiness they’ve never had but always deserved.
He starts for the stairs and doesn’t meet Stan’s eyes.
“If I throw my back out, I’m suing,” Richie calls after him, but bends down, reaches for Eddie.
Whatever fantasies Richie might entertain of lifting Eddie bridal style, having his breath gust warmly at his neck, walk him over the threshold of his own room and set him delicately down on his bed… or whatever, quickly fade when he actually tries to lift Eddie.
The only way to get him anywhere without killing them both is hoisting Eddie over his shoulder like a sack of flour he’s been pining over since 1989. It’s decidedly not sexy or sensual and he nearly trips down the stairs three separate times.
Amazingly Eddie sleeps through it all, only starts to wake when Richie pulls a muscle dropping him to his bed, his glasses tumbling to the sheets. He fumbles for them and curses Bill and then curses himself and any god out there when he shoves them back on just in time to see Eddie’s doe eyes flutter open.
He squints into the darkness. “Richie?” he says, sleepy and soft.
“Yeah, I don’t get paid enough for this shit,” Richie grumbles. “In fact I haven’t been paid at all. G’night, buddy.”
He turns to run like the coward he is when Eddie’s hand grabs his wrist.
“Rich,” he says, eyes dropping shut again. “Stay.”
“Fuck,” Richie says, with feeling. Eddie tugs on his arm, draws his own over his eyes.
A part of him considers grabbing his phone from his back pocket and calling Stan or Bev for advice. Even though technically he hasn’t come out to them yet and technically he’s still fucking repressing the decades long crushes he’s had on them as well. (It’s just easier with Eddie. To admit to himself. He loves them all, but it’s always been safest to love Eddie, the most and least likely to ever love him back.)
Eddie pulls him harder, Richie’s free palm lands on the bed right besides Eddie’s waist.
“Eds,” Richie says, gnawing on his lower lip.
“Lay down, jackass,” he snaps. Richie toes off his shoes and lets Eddie pull him onto the bed, heart pounding.
He searches for a proper joke, something that won’t ring too true, something that won’t ruin the strange warmth flowing between them.
“Hey, remember when you saved my life a week ago,” Richie says, which isn’t a joke at all.
“Shut up,” Eddie says, pulling and pushing at Richie’s tense lovesick body until Eddie has him spooned from behind.
“Shit,” Richie breathes. Eddie breathes in soft short puffs against the back of his neck. “I was just gonna say thanks.”
“Take off your glasses before you stab your eye out.”
He sets them on Eddie’s bedside table, right next to a row of pill bottles that have been collecting dust for the past week and a half.
When he wakes the next morning, the bed behind him is empty, still slightly warm. He lets himself roll back against Eddie’s pillow. In the en suite bathroom he hears Eddie’s voice raise sharply. He considers pushing out of bed and pushing into the room, throwing Eddie’s phone out the window before leaning in and kissing him, getting yelled at for morning breath and not washing his hands and learning just how many diseases a human mouth can hold.
He also considers Stan’s sleep-rumpled curls, Bill’s bleary eyes, Mike’s warm hand patting him on the back between his shoulders as he shuffles by.
Richie rolls over and closes his eyes again.
(Eddie crashes in Ben’s lap the next night, gets the full Hanscom care package: a muscled thigh for a pillow, a large hand through his hair for hours, a warm dopey smile like sunshine. Richie makes Bev drag him up the stairs anyway in the interest of Bill’s fucking turns.)
It’s been two weeks. They only realize because Stan takes a call from Patty at their diner breakfast. They note how his voice gets soft and his face gets bright. They ignore how it’s only a noticeable difference since he just spoke to the waitress and for the past two weeks he’s been soft and bright just for them.
“I know,” he says, leaning further out of the booth as Mike laughingly corals Richie away from him. Bill confiscates the rest of the straws and napkins. “Yeah, I’ll be there for the dinner. It won’t be much longer, I promise.” Richie sinks into Mike’s hold, feebly kicking at Stan under the table. “We just need to wrap up a few loose ends.”
With Richie quiet, they all hear it, clear as day and realize it’s been two weeks and they’re still in Derry. There are no loose ends. They just haven’t left.
Stan ends the call with a casual, “Love you too.” and their food arrives.
“Do you think we’ll forget again?” Bev asks, picking up her fork and gingerly poking at the pancake platter she’s sharing with Bill. “If we leave?”
It’s the easier question to ask, the harder one being, “Will I ever feel this happy again if we’re not together?”
They look to Mike, who shakes his head. “I’m… not sure you guys,” he says. “There’s no precedent for this. If the memory loss was because of It or because of Derry itself. I… I wish I knew more but-”
Bill puts his hand over Mike’s on the table.
“Well it’s easy, isn’t it?” Ben asks. “One of us stays behind and if we do still forget they can call us back together and… we plan from there.”
“I can do it,” Mike says and gets six pairs of eyes on him immediately. Attention diverted from what they would do if they forgot.
“Mike,” Stan says for all of them.
Mike shrugs. “You all still have lives out there. I have nowhere to go anyway.”
“You could stay with me,” Ben and Richie say simultaneously. Bill, Bev, and Eddie look away guiltily. Stan doesn’t blink.
“I haven’t planned anything,” Mike says. “I don’t have anything waiting out there. I should stay.”
“No,” Bill says, in his Big Bill voice. “We can stay. You should go. Spend a few days in Portland or hell, Boston or New York, just out of here. And if you don’t call us in four days we’ll call you back.”
“Bill, it’s okay,” Mike says.
“We’re not leaving you here a second time.” And that’s all there is to say.
Mike packs the next day.
Eddie tries to help. “But why don’t you have a travel size bottle of aloe vera?” he asks. “Whatever. Just take mine.”
“Eddie,” Mike says softly, taking his bag back from Eddie. He starts to zip it up.
“Ibuprofen!” Eddie says, heading back to the medicine cabinet for the seventh time. “You need Ibuprofen. We should pick you up some cold medicine too, just in case.”
Mike sets his bag down and sighs deeply. He meets Eddie in the door of his bathroom, hand tight around a bottle of pills.
“I’m sorry,” Eddie says, blinking down at his shoes. “Shit.”
Mike brushes his hand along his shoulder. “It’s okay, Eds.”
“I’m just like her,” he says, breathing shallowly. “Like both of them. Fuck, Mike. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, you aren’t. You just care,” Mike says. “That’s not a bad thing.”
“It doesn’t matter if I leave her,” he says. “It’s me. It’s already in me. I’m just as bad.”
Mike takes the pills carefully from his fist and places them back on the edge of the sink. He keeps Eddie’s hand in his, rubbing his thumb over the backs of his knuckles.
“It’s not you,” Mike says. “It’s what she did to you. It’s like poison in your head. And you can’t blame yourself for it.”
“I wish you would have called me… years ago. I wish… I could have remembered all of you and-and left,” Eddie says, hands twitching, reaching for Mike’s sweater. “I wish I could’ve come back here for you, to stay with you so we wouldn’t have had to be so fucking alone.”
“Eds,” Mike says, hiding his watery smile in Eddie’s hair.
“Don’t call me that,” Eddie says weakly into Mike’s chest.
“I missed you,” Mike says. Eddie digs his fingers into his back and exhales.
“We’re here now,” Eddie says.
“We are,” Mike agrees. “It’ll all be up from here.”
“I’d stay,” Bill says quietly that night. Mike’s set to head to Portland in the morning. It’s raining outside, gently not storming because Derry is a different place After. “If M-M-Mike doesn’t remember, if we w-wouldn’t remember, I think I’d stay. To not forget you again.”
It’s what he’s always done. Say what needed to be said for the group. Their leader, not fearless, but brave beyond measures.
“Bill,” Mike says softly.
“Me too,” Richie says. And then because the room needs a punchline. “I mean I’d hate to have to come back here and have a sexuality crisis for the third time.”
“Sexuality crisis?” Eddie echoes as someone who has become increasingly invested in Richie Tozier’s sexuality.
Stan rolls his eyes.
“I’d stay too,” Bev says, her head against Ben’s shoulder. Ben doesn’t need to echo his agreement, the way he looks down at Bev is answer enough.
“Blood pact?” Richie asks, raising his eyebrows, pointing around the circle. “Like the good old days. I’d say we could use my glasses but I don’t have a spare if we’re gonna be staying here for the rest of our lives.”
The rest of the room looks guiltily at Mike.
“I’d stay,” Mike says quietly, smiling down at his half empty glass of whiskey.
“Mikey,” Bill breathes. “You shouldn’t h-h-h-h- fuck. You deserve-”
“You don’t get it,” he says softly, looking up, looking at them. “The only thing, the worst thing wasn’t being here. It was that you guys weren’t. This place never felt that bad when I was with you. When I am with you.” He takes another sip. “If I go out there and I forget you, even for a second, I’d come back the moment you called. And I’d stay.”
Stan, next to him, reaches for his hand. Ben across from him does the same. Bill ducks his head and wipes at his cheek.
“Mike Hanlon, lady and gentlemen,” Richie says boldly, breaking the silence. “The fucking best of us all.”
They wouldn’t let Mike pay for a room at the Townhouse so he had been sleeping with Bill, back to back and waking inevitably closer, breathing the same air.
The room is colder without him.
Bill stares at the ceiling and thinks about all he’s lost and all he’s learned and everything he’s willing to do to hold onto this, to the only people who have ever mattered.
He knows they all look to him, their de facto leader when he’s done nothing to deserve it. He knows he has to let them go soon. He wants to slip out of this cold empty room and into one of theirs, just for a second, just to not feel alone.
But that would mean choosing one of them and he never wants to do that, never could then and can’t imagine now.
He resigns himself to a night alone and cold, wondering where Mike is and if he remembers their names, wondering if the others can sleep, if they’re finding comfort in each other, if-
“Why the hell is your room like twice as big as mine?”
“R-Richie?” he says and struggles to sit up. And Richie is there, hovering in the doorway.
“I mean in terms of hometown heroes I know I’m more famous than you, Denbrough,” he continues.
“W-What’s up, Rich?” he asks, reaching across the bed for the lamp on the nightstand.
“Fucking nightmares,” he says. Still shifting from foot to foot in the hall, like every bone in Bill’s body isn’t calling out for him, like Bill hasn’t always been helpless to hide the need that pours from him. “Can I come in?”
Bill nods, doesn’t trust himself to say yes like it means nothing.
Richie steps in slowly, hesitates before closing the door behind him and taking off his shoes. He’s silent as he pads to the bed, doesn’t say a word, just blinks at Bill like he’s still waiting for permission.
Bill rolls to what he’s been considering his side of the bed. Richie slides between the sheets. They lie side by side, facing the ceiling.
“You know, we live two hours away from each other,” Richie says, steady and dry like the set up for a joke. “Well, four and a half with traffic.”
Bill smiles, doesn’t have to try to hide it in the dark.
“I d-didn’t,” he says. The back of Richie’s hand brushes his.
“Can you believe?” Richie says. “Twenty years of deep repression, all a drive away from my childhood crush.”
Bill feels a tingling start on the back of his neck, warm and delightful. It turns his stomach just a little too, picturing Eddie two doors down, Mike in the nicest Portland hotel they could find, Ben and Bev wrapped up in each other, Stan and his wedding ring.
“Shit,” Richie says, huffing a little laugh. “I guess I thought it’d be harder to say that out loud. Thought I’d be stammering it up like you, Bill.”
“Beep b-beep,” he says. His voice shakes.
“You ever think that maybe we ran into each other?” Richie asks. “We were in different circles but it all gets mashes up out there. Six degrees of separation or whatever. I could’ve sworn I saw Audra at a party once. And maybe we were drunk or something and just bumped into each other and said, ‘Hey, aren’t you that guy who did that thing?’ and not even know that you were the first boy I ever wanted to kiss.”
“Richie,” he breathes.
“And the first person to ever punch me in the face,” Richie continues. “And the first person who ever said I was funny. Second grade, remember? Bet you fucking regret that now.”
Bill kisses him, sudden and sloppy, just like the punch had been, there and gone, changing something in the core of them.
Richie swallows hard.
“Just c-c-c’mere, Rich,” Bill says, turned on his side. His holds his arms open and thinks please, please . Richie’s arms go around his waist, head presses into his neck, lips against his collarbone through the thin fabric of his shirt.
“I, um,” Richie mumbles against him. “It’s like Stan said last week. I kinda had a crush on all of you.”
“Me too,” he says. Richie’s heartbeat stutters beneath his fingers.
“What are we gonna do about it, Big Bill?” he asks.
“I d-dunno,” Bill says. Richie is silent, and then minutes later, snoring, open mouthed against Bill’s skin.
“Come to bed,” Bev says, because if she doesn’t Ben’ll probably stand by the bathroom all night. He shuffles over, turning off the lights and feeling out the edge of the bed before carefully sitting.
Bev reaches for him once he settles, scooting closer, bringing his arms to rest around her waist.
“You know I want this, right?” she says because his arms are still so loose around her. It’s wonderful in its own right, having that impression of him, his warmth so close to her but still being able to breathe in a way that’s novel and feels like love.
He nods. “I mean, I hope so,” he says.
“I do.” She rests her hand against his chest, feels his heart pound. She taps her fingers there once, to prompt him along.
“I’ve just… wanted this for so long,” he says. “Even when I didn’t really remember, I knew that all I ever wanted was… to love and be loved. And I know it’s not really the same for you. I don’t want to make any presumptions… about what you want.”
She closes her eyes and breathes. “I want you.”
“Thank you,” he whispers, pressing his face into his pillow.
“Ben,” she says.
“I know you didn’t that summer,” he says. “And I don’t care, but I just want to make sure that I’m not going too fast or asking for too much.”
She brushes his hair away from his face, lets her fingers curl over his ear.
“It wasn’t like that, that summer,” she says. “It’s not that I didn’t want you.”
“You just wanted Bill more?” He asks, quiet and gentle. Understanding. He’s so understanding.
She shakes her head. “It was never like that for me. There was never more or less. It was just… it was nice to have you guys as friends, to know that I had a place with you all. And I knew that you liked me and Bill liked me and Mike a little too. And it wasn’t because of… my hair or anything… like that, anything physical. It was me. And it wasn’t because I was the only girl because it was how you looked at each other too.”
Ben hides his smile, in the dark and in the sheets. She feels it anyway.
“It was a little different with you, for me,” he says quietly.
“I know,” she says. “But you loved them just the same.”
“Love them,” he says, barely a breath. Bev beams.
Things are quieter while Mike’s gone. They fade in and out of each other’s days. Bill and Ben read in armchairs. Bev and Richie smoke out on the fire escape. Stan and Eddie do six loads of laundry.
They sometimes gather for drinks in the lounge. Mike’s absence is so noticeable, an open wound that aches in their skin. Richie makes jokes and Bill tells stories and Ben fixes the fireplace but it’s no replacement for the warmth Mike brings to a room.
It’s barely four days. They’re still furthest from alone they’ve ever been. They have each other, but still lose sleep thinking about Mike out there, without them, not remembering them.
And they think about Mike in Derry. Twenty seven years. Remembering when no one else did. Alone.
Bill’s phone rings the fourth night when they’re all sitting around the fire and his hand shakes when he grabs it off the couch.
Stan stops in the middle of a story about his first vacation with Patty.
“It’s Mike,” he says and answers the call.
“Speaker, Bill,” Bev says, reaching for his wrist. He fumbles with the phone and sets it in the middle of their broken half circle.
“Hey, Losers,” Mike says, voice tinny but no less soothing. “Miss me?”
Loose ends have been tied.
Stan calls Patty when they’re done talking with Mike and buys a plane ticket. Ben officially invites Bev to come stay with him while she squares away her divorce. She asks where and he offers her a map and tells her to point.
Richie almost buys a ticket back to LA off his phone before reaching the option to add a second ticket and balking, trying to catch Eddie’s or Bill’s eye from across the room.
They packed for a few days in Derry not two and a half weeks. They’re re-packed by the end of the hour.
Eddie watches the fire for a while and watches them for a while and heads upstairs and puts everything back into his two suitcases and toiletry bag. He doesn’t buy a plane ticket. He doesn’t know where he’s going, where he could possibly go, but also can’t bring himself to ask any of the others to take him on with all his literal and metaphorical baggage.
Stan is the only one left in the lounge when he sneaks back down at the crack of dawn to drink.
“Guess that’s it then,” Stan says, eyes inscrutable.
“Right,” Eddie agrees, nodding. “Can’t wait to get out of here.”
Stan’s smile is tight and knowing. Eddie would really like to know when the fuck he got so good at reading them.
“We’ll keep in touch, right?” Eddie asks and briefly considers smashing his head through a wall.
“Of course,” Stan says, blinking. “We just… we just got each other back, I certainly don’t plan on letting go again, anytime soon.”
Richie stumbles down next, rubbing at his eyes. “Fucking hate traveling,” he announces. “We should coordinate rides to the airport, right? That’s a thing adults do.”
“You’re wearing that to the fucking airport?” Eddie demands.
Richie blinks. “What?”
“You need long-sleeves, dumbass. The amount of germs- God, how are you alive?”
“The grace of God and the power of tequila,” he says and throws his arm over Eddie’s shoulder.
“Get off me!”
“When you heading out, Stanley?” he asks, batting Eddie’s hands away.
“Noon,” he says. “My flight’s at four.”
Richie groans. “This isn’t fucking LAX, you don’t need four hours for security.”
“I live in Atlanta, Richie. I know a thing or two about airports.”
Ben and Bev come down the stairs together.
“Hey, lovebirds!” Richie calls, throwing himself into Bev’s lap when they sit down.
Then Mike, amazingly, through the front door, with his own suitcase. Stan hops up to meet him, pulling him into a tight hug, burying his face in Mike’s neck.
“I wanted to make sure I caught you before you left,” Mike says.
“You’re right on time, Mikey,” Stan says. They wear the same mournful look when they join the others back in the lounge, a look that says they’re about to lose something, about to regret not saying something but can’t seem to stop the chance from slipping away.
Then Bill, already with his suitcase in hand.
“I, uh, found a f-friend from c-c-college out in Sacramento who says I can stay for a w-week,” he explains, standing next to Stan and Richie crammed in an armchair not built for two.
“Bill, I live in LA,” Richie says. “Mi casa es su casa, prick. I bet your fucking Sacramento friend can’t make a latte half as good as mine, I’ll fight him.”
“R-Rich, I couldn’t impose-”
“We fought a fucking clown together! I think that trumps a friend from college anyday.”
“We only r-remembered each other a few weeks ago,” Bill says, shrugging. “I didn’t want to assume-”
“That doesn’t matter!” Eddie snaps, arms tight over his chest. “Just because it’s been like two weeks and just because we didn’t remember each other for twenty seven years. That doesn’t mean that what I feel- what we- what happened- that we aren’t-”
“Breathe, Eddie,” Ben says, reaching over a coffee table to place a hand on his knee. Eddie bats it away, draws himself back into a corner of the couch.
“And-and-and shouldn’t we be considering that maybe Mike didn’t go far enough,” he continues. “He never left Maine and maybe if we leave Maine we’ll start to forget again, so this is all moving a little fast, don’t you think?”
“It only took moving to Portland for me to forget,” Bev offers, eyebrows knit in concern.
“Well!” Eddie splutters. “What if four days isn’t enough?”
“It’s enough,” Mike says. He looks like he wants to reach for Eddie like Ben did but keeps his hands in his lap.
“But what if it’s different this time?” he demands. “Huh? Has anyone thought about that?”
“Eddie,” Bill says. “C-calm down, okay? You’re gonna give yourself an asthma attack if you-”
“I don’t have asthma! I never had asthma! I’m fine! I just think we’re not thinking this through!”
“Eds,” Richie says.
“Don’t call me that! How many fucking times-”
“I almost killed myself,” Stan says. Not loudly. It cuts through the noise anyway. Richie’s breath hitches and Mike’s lips part.
“Stan,” Bev says softly.
“Mike called and I remembered everything,” he says. “Not little by little. Everything at once. Georgie, Neibolt, It. I remembered being alone in the sewers, I remembered It almost getting me and the cuts on my face opened back up.” He smiles something that is not a smile. “Patty nearly screamed. There was just blood dripping down onto the collar of my shirt. I told her I cut myself shaving and that I would clean up upstairs. I remembered what it felt like to be so alone down there in the sewer and so scared. And I thought: I can’t go back. At first it was just, I won’t go back. One of seven, what difference could it make. But… I knew it would make all the difference, if I was out there and you all were here. So I thought, fuck it, I’d rather die than go back and I’d also rather die than put any of you in danger. So… I got in the bathtub.”
“Stan,” Richie whispers, not even trying to wipe away the tears tracking down his face. Stan grabs his hand in both of his and pulls it gently up, kissing the back of his knuckles, holding it against his chest.
“And then I remembered that day, the first day after, when we sat out in the Barrens and made that oath. I remembered that I loved each and every one of you and that it had been taken away from me, that love. And I’m happy with Patty and my job and my life. But not nearly as happy as I could have been. I remembered that moment in the sewers when you found me. I thought I was going to die down there, dirty and cold and alone, but then you were all there. Because you came from me and you would always come for me. Because it’s always us.” He closes his eyes, lets his head tip back against the chair. “And I thought, okay, Stan, you can die here in your bathroom alone, clean and with the lights on. Or you can go back to Derry and die in the dark and the dirt surrounded by the loves of your life. And it was never really a question.” He bites his lower lip and nods. “I just had to know if Richie ever got fucking contacts.”
Bill gasps out a laugh, sits down hard on the arm of the nearest chair.
“Fuck you, man,” Richie says, slipping his glasses off so he could run his sleeve across his face. Eddie cringes watching him. “I, uh… it’s the same for me. Well, not all of that obviously. But the loving you all part.” He wrinkles his nose. “I’m in love with all of you. Also I’m gay.”
Mike touches his shoulder, fingers squeezing lightly.
“Bev could get it though,” he adds solemnly.
“Thanks, Rich,” she says, a midpoint between sincere and sarcastic. “You guys are the only men I’ve ever trusted.”
Ben smiles at her, leans into her side.
“I…” Mike starts and shakes his head. “When I was waiting for you guys, I always thought about what would happen if It was truly gone. What I would do then? Because I wanted nothing more than to call you all back anyway, even though it meant remembering all the horrible things that happen in this town, because I wanted you all so bad. And I hated myself for being so selfish, to want to do that to you because I didn’t want to be alone anymore, because I was a kid with a handful of crushes that never went away.”
“Not s-selfish, Mike,” Bill says, standing and reaching for his hand. “You never could be. We needed you to bring us back. We need you, and we need each other.”
“So what?” Eddie yelps, still breathing a little fast, still packed with two suitcases and a toiletry bag and nowhere to go. “We love each other. It’s been twenty seven years that we lost out on, and now we have some miracle second chance. What do we do now? We can’t just stay here.”
“Eddie,” Bev says softly.
“What? What do we just… we just spread out across the country again?”
“It’s 2016, Eds,” Richie says. “We have phones.”
“Is that what we want? A fucking seven-way long-distance relationship while Stan’s happily married?”
“Patty’s cool with it,” Stan offers. “I told her about us before I left.”
“Stan, I’m gonna marry your wife,” Richie announces.
“But what’s the plan?” Eddie says. “B-because I can’t… I don’t know… I don’t have anything if… without this-”
Richie steps towards him and gives him barely a second of warning before he cups his face and kisses him. Eddie makes a strangled noise, not an unhappy one. He tilts his head back and falls into it, his mouth moving against Richie’s, his hand coming up to grasp desperately at his hair.
The rest watch, feeling it in their chests when the dam breaks, when the tension snaps and they simply are. The seven of them and love, together.
“Come to LA with me,” Richie says when he pulls back. “And Bill.” He throws a pointed look over his shoulder. Bill presses his lips together.
“Oh,” Eddie says, like it all makes sense now. He blinks a few times, his eyes drag across the rest of them. Bill nods, Mike smiles. “You better not be joking with me, dipshit.”
Richie laughs breathlessly.
“And after?” Eddie asks.
Stan shrugs, takes Eddie’s hand in his. “We’ll figure something out. We always do.”