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Braver Than You Think

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Eddie Kaspbrak has had Enough.

He’s been back in Derry for less than 24 hours and he is Done.

As the leper tries to stick its gross tongue down his throat yet again, something in him snaps. He wraps his hands around the leper’s – no, It’s – throat and squeezes. He squeezes and squeezes. Squeezes harder as he sees a flash of panic in It’s expression. It emboldens him. Has him moving forward, backing It up into the shelves as he increases the pressure.

“Yeah, how do you like that, huh?” he taunts, feeling something inside him shake apart. “You fucking one-trick pony. You fucking piece of shit.” He’s winning. He can feel it. He has the upper hand.

And then he’s choking back black bile and tarry liquid as it’s spewed into his face with as much pressure as a firehose. Clenching his eyes closed, he almost lets go but then a memory hits him with almost as much force.

He remembers being in the sewers 27 years ago. Remembers this piece of shit pulling the same move on him. He remembers yelling at It.

I’m gonna kill you.

Time to fucking deliver.

He doesn’t need to open his eyes, all he needs to do is keep squeezing. The liquid subsides but he doesn’t let go. There’s a wet gurgling noise but he doesn’t let go. There’s hands pawing at his arms weakly but he doesn’t fucking let go.

He can do this. He can kill It. He can save them all. Bill, Mike, Bev, Ben…Richie.

“Eddie!”

Eddie blinks his eyes open in shock, valiantly trying to ignore the viscous liquid trying to glue them shut again.

The leper’s gone. His hands are around Richie’s throat, his friend’s eyes practically bugging out of his head. “Eddie, please!” he gasps, clawing at Eddie’s wrists.

On instinct, his death grip loosens. Just for a moment. And then his brain, already working a mile a minute, catches up and shuts that shit down immediately. How would Richie have known where he was? How would he have just randomly appeared? How the fuck would they have switched places?

No. It was another trick. It was using Richie to scare him off. Make him back away. But instead, the remaining fear that he held in his heart was replaced with a fury the likes of which he’d never felt before. It felt bigger than him. Too big. It’s eyes widened, turning blue to orange as Eddie’s nails dug into its neck.

“You made me forget them,” Eddie chokes out. “27 years…” He slams It’s head into the shelves. “27 years!”

He doesn’t even notice It shrinking until he falls to his knees, hovering over it and never once loosening his grip. “You killed Stan,” he continues. His hand starts to burn but he can’t let go, he’s so fucking close. “You tried to break us. But you know what, fucker?” He’s starting to feel strangely light-headed, like he’s having an outer body experience. His hand is scalding. He doesn’t let up. “We’re Losers.” It sneers at him as it starts to morph into a disturbing, deflated combination of Richie and Pennywise. Eddie doesn’t let go until It’s barely any bigger than a baby and looking just as helpless. He staggers upright, staring down at the pathetic image before him. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Look at you,” It spits out, breathing laboured. Eddie notices the rapid beating of its heart hammering in its chest. He blinks rapidly as a thought pushes to the forefront of his mind. CRUSH IT. Another sharp pain in his hand. “All grown u-“

Eddie cuts off whatever It was going to say, ramming his inhaler in its mouth, grinning at its frightened eyes. “Beep beep, motherfucker,” he says before stomping on its heart.

He can’t fully appreciate the death rattle of the demonic entity that’s plagued much of his life, too busy throwing up, bracing himself on the shelves. When he turns back around, wiping his face with his sleeve and grimacing at the mess, It has already started to disintegrate.

I killed it.

The thought sits in his mind for a moment and he doesn’t know what to do with it. It doesn’t seem real. They thought they’d killed it before, though somehow they all knew it wasn’t the end. They’d made the pact after all. But there’s a lightness inside Eddie that feels completely foreign and it has him laughing. And if the laugh is a touch too hysterical to be entirely happy well, it’s been a while.

He has to tell the others.

Still not feeling entirely in control of his movements, he treks back to the Townhouse. He arrives to find Ben, Beverly and Richie already at the foot of the stairs. They’re yelling, waving their hands in each other’s faces.

“Hey guys,” he says, walking through the front door. They all stop, staring at him with wide eyes.

“Jesus, what happened to you?” Richie asks, closing the gap and looking him over for injuries buried under the layer of grime still covering his face.

“I’m fine, just, uh…” Where does he even begin?

“Do you still have your scar?” Ben asks, suddenly.

Eddie frowns, holding up his left hand. Huh. The widening of his eyes seems to be answer enough as Ben slaps Richie in the arm. “See! Something’s happened! Don’t you feel it?”

“Listen, I just don’t want to-“

“You felt the burning too though, right?” Ben pressures and Eddie realises this was probably what they were arguing about when he walked in.

“I’m 40, man! My extremities do all kinds of weird shit these days! Sometimes my ass vibrates and I think it’s my phone but it’s just my ass! A 27 year old scar burning ranks pretty low on weird shit in my life, ok?”

“I felt it too,” Eddie says, drawing their attention again. “The burning.”

“It means something,” Beverly nods, knowing it’s the truth as she traces a finger over where her scar used to be. Richie just shakes his head, running a hand through his hair.

“This is crazy. I still say we get the hell out before-“

“I think I killed it.”

Richie stutters to a halt, three pairs of eyes turning to stare at him, mouths agape.

“What?” Beverly asks.

“Yeah, so, uh, pretty sure I killed it.”

“’It’ as in…”

Eddie gives Richie a withering look. “It as in It, dumbass. I- I went to the pharmacy. I remembered some fucked up shit from that summer, could have done without that thanks Mikey,” Eddie hears Richie respond with an ‘a-fucking-men’ whilst Ben and Beverly nod in understanding, “and then It shows up as that fucking leper again and I just…snapped, you know?”

“Love that show,” Richie says, absently and Ben slaps him lightly on the arm, more out of habit then any real intent. Richie doesn’t seem to notice anyway, his attention 100% on Eddie.

“I get my hands around it’s throat and just start choking it. Like, I’m trying to just get it away from me, you know? But then I see it start to panic and I just keep squeezing and I can feel that I’m actually winning.” A laugh bubbles up as the three of them continue to stare. “I feel like I can actually do this. Then it fucking turns into Richie and I just lose it and double down.”

Richie’s mouth snaps closed as he blinks at Eddie. “Uhhh, wow. That’s uh. Not gonna get a complex from that, thanks Eds! Awesome.” He buries his hands in his jacket pockets as his eyes dart across to the bar and avoid making contact with anyone else.

Eddie makes sure to soften his tone as he continues. “I just got so mad. It made me realise everything that I’d- that we’d lost because of It. Everything we’d missed out on. It tried to scare me off and instead it just showed me what it had taken from me and made me forget and I dunno, I just…”

“Snapped?” Richie finishes, eyebrow raised and a small smile on his face.

Eddie laughs on a sharp exhale. “Yeah.” Richie’s gaze darts away again but at least now it seems to be out of embarrassment instead of hurt. “And I just didn’t let go until it was this weird shrivelled blob and then I’m pretty sure I said something cool but I forget what it was-“

“K.O., motherfucker,” Richie offers.

“That…doesn’t even make sense.”

Richie shrugs. “It would have if it were me.”

Eddie just glares at him and as he opens his mouth to continue, Richie interrupts again. “Guess you failed to analyse the risks, bitch,” he suggests, adopting a Schwarzenegger-like Voice.

“Dude,” Eddie says, but he’s fighting to hide a smile.

“Sorry, shutting up.”

“I just remember shoving my inhaler in its stupid mouth and stomping on its heart.”

“Holy shit,” Ben says right as Beverley mutter “Jesus…”

“That’s…hardcore,” Richie says, eyes wide.

“Then I threw up.”

Richie bobs his head a little, “Well, think you can be forgiven for that one, Eds.”

“So, yeah,” Eddie says, throwing his hands out to the side. He suddenly wishes he was a better storyteller. Bill would have been able to recount that with much more gusto. “Pretty sure It’s dead.”

They stand in silence for a few seconds before Richie breaks it with a shaky laugh. “Holy shit. Always knew you were the brave one, Eddie Spaghetti,” he says, nudging him with his elbow.

Eddie is too dumbstruck by the ludicrous statement to even admonish him for the nickname. “What? Shut up. Bill was always the brave one…”

“Wow, ok, casually forgetting how I hit a demon clown with a baseball bat and a badass one-liner, I see how it is, no no, it’s fine,” Richie waves Eddie away theatrically as Eddie attempts to reason with the idiot. “But seriously. You break your arm and still slap that bitch in the face,” he continues, counting his points off on his fingers. “You stood up to momzilla to help your friends.”

“You crawled through greywater to rescue me,” Beverly chimes in, running a comforting hand up and down his arm, only to wrinkle her nose as it comes away covered in gross.

“Sorry,” Eddie mutters.

“You choked a fucking eldritch shitbag so hard it shrank and then you stomped on its heart,” Richie continues, staring a little too intensely at Eddie.

“I don’t even remember doing half those things. Not really,” Eddie says, shrugging one shoulder.

“But it’s always been there,” Ben says in earnest. “Just like it has been with all of us.”

“You did all that,” Richie continues and Eddie doesn’t know at all what to do with the edge of awe in his voice. “And I can’t even-“ He cuts himself off, mouth snapping shut so quickly Eddie can hear the clack of his teeth. His eyes are wide, panicked, like he just admitted something catastrophic when really he hadn’t said anything at all.

Eddie frowns, his eyes skittering across to Ben who is looking searchingly at Richie’s face, as if trying to solve a puzzle. Richie opens his mouth a couple more times, struggling for words (potentially more astounding than killing a demon clown on this day) and eventually just says, “You’re braver than you think,” and gives him a swift pat on the shoulder before the hand is thrust back into his pocket.

“Thanks, Rich,” Eddie replies though he’s still frowning.

Ben, Eddie notes, is also frowning. He looks from Richie to Eddie, then back to Richie who can obviously tell he’s being stared at and doesn’t appreciate it. But before he can call him out on it, Ben sucks in a breath, bracing himself, and turns to Beverly.

“Bev,” he starts, then flounders once her attention is on him. “The…That postcard? The poem?” She frowns, pulling the postcard out of her pocket slowly. “It wasn’t Bill. I wrote that. And I…” he hesitates again, licking his lips. Seeing her eyes slowly widen, he thinks she already knows what he’s about to say. But he has to say it. “I kissed you. To wake you up from the deadlights. That was me. And I think I’ve been in love with you for the last 27 years.”

Everyone stares at Ben. Or, at least, Eddie assumes they’re all staring at Ben but when he chances an ‘are you hearing this?’ glance at Richie, it’s to find Richie already staring at him, looking absolutely petrified.

“Holy shit, Benjamin,” Richie manages to get out, turning his attention back to Ben. Richie’s shoulders are up to his ears, Eddie thinks he looks like a coiled spring ready to jettison out of the inn at any given opportunity. “You can’t just drop something like that on someone! ‘Oh hi, haven’t seen you in 27 years but I think I’ve been in love with you since we were kids!’ Shit. That’s…that’s crazy, man. Right, Eds?”

Eddie has been watching Beverly the whole time who, in turn, hasn’t taken her eyes off Ben. Her gaze is distant, probably looking at a time 27 years ago, desperately trying to fill in the blanks. It’s a familiar feeling. At the mention of his name, he turns back to Richie who somehow looks even more harried than before. “Uh, yeah, I gu-“

“OK! Cool! Exactly! The worst idea,” pointing triumphantly at Ben like he’s just proven a point that no one had established. Eddie’s about to add that crazy is more or less their normal at this point so maybe it’s not so absurd after all but Richie’s already continuing. “I’m gonna pack up my shit and get the hell out of here. No clown, no Derry! But don’t leave without me.” And with that, he turns tail and power walks upstairs to his room before anyone can call after him.

Ben sighs, holding up a finger as Beverly finally attempts to address the bomb he just dropped. “I promise we will talk about this,” he says, “but I need to deal with Richie first. OK?”

Beverly dips her head in a gentle nod, still seeming a little dazed. Ben gives her a soft smile before running up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Eddie desperately wants a shower and a change of clothes. But something keeps him in the lobby with Beverly and then he’s following her to the bar as she pours herself a drink.

“So…” he starts, “that’s uh, pretty huge, huh?”

Beverley shoots him a sidelong glance before she downs the shot and pours herself another. “Maybe not ‘killed a demon clown’ huge but it’s up there.” Instead of drinking the second shot, she just cradles it in her hand.

“Do you…?” Eddie knows he doesn’t need to finish the thought.

“I…” Beverley frowns into her drink. “I loved the boy who wrote me that poem. I know I did. Even though I couldn’t remember who he was. I think I still do. I feel like a lot of the things we felt then are still there now, don’t you? They’ve been there this whole time. Just hidden.”

Eddie nods. Thinks about the surge of emotions that hit him the moment Richie hit that stupid gong in the restaurant. How it had immediately been followed by a familiar surge of ‘bury it deep, you can’t, you musn’t, badbadbad’. It was like being 13 all over again. He’d never been more scared than he was at 13. He’d never been braver than he was at 13 either. Until today.

“What the hell do we do now, Bev?” Eddie asks. At her questioning look, he continues. “If it really is over, what now? What, I go back to New York? Back to my job that I hate and my wife that I-“ He certainly doesn’t hate Myra but he doesn’t love her. It had been safe. It had been what he felt he deserved. But how could he go back to that now when all he’ll see is his mother staring back at him? When all he can think about is the boy he’s been in love with for 27 years.

Shit.

The same boy who has gone and pointed out just how ridiculous that notion is so guess he’s holding on to that little piece of trivia for a while longer. At least Eddie knows how to do that.

“We start over,” Bev says, wrapping her free hand around the one Eddie is using to lean on the bar, running her fingers over his knuckles. “We deserve that.” Eddie tries not to think of the bruises he’d seen on her arms back at the restaurant any time she leant across the table. There’s an uncertain look in her eyes, a hesitation in her own statement.

Eddie squeezes her hand before bringing it to his lips and giving the back of her hand a quick kiss. “We do,” he confirms, resolute. They do. They stood up to their abusers once upon a time. They escaped that life, they’d been brave. They can be brave again. And they’ll do it together this time. 

As if reading his thoughts, Bev brightens as she says, “We can have divorcee brunches in the City. Complaining about all the paperwork over mocha frappuccinos.”

Eddie laughs and it feels good. Everything feels good and fresh and new. A second chance. It’s…kind of daunting if he thinks about it too hard.

“Go get cleaned up,” Bev says, removing her hand to run her fingers through his hair, matted with…whatever. “I’ll call Mike, get him to meet us here instead of the library.”

“Thanks,” Eddie says, sagging in relief at the mere thought of being clean. With one final grin, he turns and almost skips up the steps towards his room. 

~*~

When Ben enters Richie’s room, it’s to find him just staring at nothing, no sign of his bag or its contents anywhere. He glares at Ben the moment he sets foot inside but says nothing.

“Hey,” Ben says in lieu of anything better. “Need any help?”

“With what?” Richie asks and there’s bite to his words. Defensive. “Packing? Or 27 years of pining harder than a fucking forest?”

Ben fumbles for a response, caught off guard by the brutal honesty. He had been expecting to have to coax it out of him. “The second one.”

Richie slumps on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “I fucking hate this town,” he mutters. 

Without hesitating, Ben sits down next to him, shoulder pressing against Richie’s side. “If it’s any consolation, I think I remember figuring it out that summer too.”

Richie turns his head to stare at him. “No, Ben, that isn’t a consolation, thank you!” Richie says, incredulous.

“Sorry. I just mean, you know, I could recognise it. I could look at the way you looked at him when you thought no one was watching and be like, huh. I know that feeling. And I can still see it.”

Richie sighs, his shoulders drooping. “Fuck,” he mutters, dragging his glasses off his face to rub at his tired eyes. “I was always so scared. Not even of the feeling but just people finding out about it. And here I was broadcasting it loud and clear to the Lonely-Hearts Club, members: 1. Well, 2, I guess.”

Ben rubs at his back, giving him a gentle nudge. “You gonna tell him?”

“Fuck no!” Richie says, straightening up to stare at Ben. “Are you kidding me? He’s married! He has a whole new life, we both do. We’re both…different, now.”

Ben raises an eyebrow at that. From the minute they’d been reunited, they’d bickered and joked and fallen into old patterns so immediately, it’s as if they were carved into their very bones. Once it started flowing, it knew exactly which way to go. They’d grown older, but they hadn’t really ever grown up.

“OK, fine,” Richie relents. “But it still won’t help anything. I just got him back. I’m not throwing it all away again just to be like-“

“I think I’ve been in love with you for the last 27 years?” Ben supplies, his mouth twitching upwards in a self-deprecating smile.

Richie scoffs. “OK, see, you can get away with saying shit like that. It’s wholesome because you’re a disgusting romantic and everyone knows that. Me? Ugh,” Richie grimaces, pushing his glasses back onto his nose, “I can already see him going into an asthma attack or worse, think I’m joking. And then I’ll play it off like I am and never be able to look him in the face again. No thank you, think I’ll pass.”

Ben nods, tapping him lightly between the shoulder blades. “If you’re sure. But, you know, I don’t think it was just 2 members.”

“2 members of what?”

But before Ben ccan reply, a yell comes from the landing. “Hey, guys!”

Both Ben and Richie frown as they propel themselves off the bed and into the hall, just in time to see Eddie leaning against the wall, bleeding everywhere.

“What the fuck?!” Richie yells as they both run towards him, Richie dropping to his knees as Eddie slides his way down the wall. His hands shake as they hover over a gaping wound in Eddie’s cheek.

“Bowers is in my room,” Eddie says, more nonchalant than he has any right to with a fucking gaping wound in his cheek.

Ben doesn’t even hesitate before heading in, leaving Richie to fret, uselessly. “Is it bad?” Eddie asks, blood dribbling out of his mouth.

Richie can’t find any words as he looks from Eddie’s wide eyes, back to the wound. “Wow, making Trashmouth speechless twice in under an hour. New record,” Eddie says, laughing then following it up with a wet cough. “Pretty sure I’m going into shock.” 

That seems to bring Richie back to himself. “OK- OK, what do you need? Blanket? First aid kit? You brought a first aid kit, right? You bring two fucking suitcases, you gotta have a first aid kit in there, right?”

Ben stumbles out of Eddie’s room holding a towel which he throws down to Richie. “He’s dead.”

“Huh,” Eddie says, wincing as Richie tries to dab away some of the blood. “Two childhood bullies in one day. I’m on a roll.” He laughs and it’s more than a little manic. “Yep, definitely shock. That’s the uh, that’s the shock right there.” It becomes more obvious as his hands begin to shake, along with his shoulders.

“Alright, let’s get you up off the floor,” Ben says, leaning down to wrap one of Eddie’s arms over his shoulder. “Richie, gimme a hand. Richie!”

Richie, who is clinging on to the bloody towel as if it’s a lifeline and staring into space suddenly snaps into action. “Right, sorry. Up ya get, Eds!” He takes Eddie’s other arm and the three of them walk to Richie’s room, sitting him down on one of the chairs in the corner. Ben disappears and returns moments later with both of Eddie’s cases, one of which does, of course, contain a first aid kit.

“Alright, you gotta tell me what the fuck I’m doing here, man,” Richie says. “You’re the pro here, not me.”

“Shouldn’t we get him to a hospital?” Ben says.

“No,” Eddie says, a little too quickly. “I mean, we can do that later just…just clean it up, I’ll be fine.”

Richie crouches down beside Eddie and gets to work with cleaning and disinfecting the wound. The cut itself seems pretty clean but will definitely need stitches. For the time being, he is just instructed to put some gauze over it. Because if there’s one thing the Losers know how to do, it’s to cover up a problem and deal with them later…

When Ben chuckles above them, they both look up in question. “It’s like that first time we met and you were patching me up, remember? Only you’re now me,” he says, pointing to Eddie, “and I guess that makes me you,” he finishes, tapping Richie on the shoulder.

“Never thought I’d see the day that I’d be Doctor K,” Richie mutters, taping the gauze to Eddie’s cheek.

“Hey, what was it you said back then? Suck the wound?” Ben says with a laugh that immediately dies in his throat at Richie’s flinch. Eddie glances between the two of them as Richie turns to look up at Ben with an indecipherable expression. But Ben seems to interpret it just fine as he jerks a thumb towards the door and says, “I’m gonna…go talk to Bev,” and backs out of the room.

Richie turns his attention back to the gauze, frowning too intently at it as the blood already starts to soak through. “You should go to a hospital,” he relents but Eddie’s already shaking his head.

“Later, just…I just want to stop a second, you know? I still haven’t had my fucking shower,” he finishes with a half-hearted laugh.

“What happened?

“Bowers was just in the bathroom waiting for me, said it was ‘my time’ then stabbed me in the fucking face. Guess that asshole didn’t get the memo about the clown being dead. Also didn’t Mike push him down like a 30 foot well? How the fuck? And then, yeah. I hid in the shower and then I guess stabbed him with the knife he didn’t bother taking back out of my cheek.”

Then he has the audacity to shrug as if that isn’t the most badass thing Richie has ever heard. And not 30 minutes ago he’d been told this same guy stomped a demon heart under his foot. Richie kind of feels like his brain is leaking out of his ears and he is possibly going insane. But mostly he is hit with the thought of Eddie nearly died.

He lets out a shaky gust of breath that has Eddie gripping his shoulder. “Hey, you ok, man?" 

A watery laugh rises from Richie’s throat. “You’re the one who’s been stabbed, man.” When he dares to look up at Eddie, the man offers him a lopsided smile.

“I guess when you spend your whole life worrying that you’re gonna die of cancer, getting stabbed is a nice change of pace.” Richie laughs. Then immediately falls apart. Eddie panics. “Shit. Hey, it’s OK, I’m OK. We’re all good. Right? No clown, no Bowers. It’s fine, it’s good.” He awkwardly pets at Richie’s hair which only seems to set him off more so Eddie pulls away as best he can with Richie still draped over him. “Talk to me, Rich,” he pleads. 

Richie rubs his sleeve across his face, doing his best to wipe away the sudden flow of tears. There’s frustration in his huff of breath and he resolutely refuses to look up at Eddie. Instead, he uses Eddie’s knees as leverage to push himself back up to a standing position and move to the bed. Eddie watches as he settles down on the edge, elbows resting on his knees as he plays with a hangnail.

Then he reaches into his jacket pocket, pulling out the arcade token and turning it between his fingers. “Guess I won’t be needing this now, huh.”

“What is it?” Eddie asks, feeling awkward talking to him from across the room but unsure whether he can close the distance Richie had only just created. When Richie holds it up for him to see, he takes that as an invitation, moving from the chair to settle beside him and take the token from his hand. “An arcade token? That shit still worked?”

Richie shrugs. “Did for me. Doesn’t rank too highly on crazy shit of the day, if I’m honest.”

“That’s where you spent most of that summer. Street Fighter training,” Eddies says with an amused smirk that falls the moment Richie flinches. “Did something happen? Pennywise?”

“Bowers, actually. Well, more like a Greatest Hits of Derry’s Most Fucked Up.” Richie’s still not looking at him and now he doesn’t have the token as a distraction he’s just staring at the really interesting carpet pattern. “Bowers and his fuckwits chased me out of the arcade after they thought I was hitting on his cousin and then when I ran out, Pennywise decided to get in on the action. That was my happy memory hour.”

Eddie waits for the rest of the story but when nothing else is forthcoming, he frowns. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

“That’s cos I left something out,” Richie says, his voice quiet and shaky. “Because I don’t know how to fucking say it. I’ve never known how to say it.” Richie turns his head just enough to flick his gaze up to Eddie’s. His expression threatens to tear Eddie in two. He looks more vulnerable than Eddie’s ever seen him, his brow furrowed in a desperate plea. Help me say it. And Eddie wants to. He wants to help more than anything. He just doesn’t know what the hell Richie needs.

So he decides to bite the bullet.

“Remember what I was most afraid of as a kid?”

Some of the franticness clears from Richie’s face as his frown turns into one of confusion. It’s better. This is better. “Cancer?” Eddie shakes his head. Richie pauses, thinking. “AIDS?”

“Right. My mom went on about it constantly. Don’t touch anything dirty, Eddie. ‘I have a friend’, she always had a fucking friend who had something. Pretty sure they were all made up. A cautionary tale for every fucking occasion. She sent me to the hospital over and over for them to stick me with needles and that never seemed to bother her.”

Richie was still watching him, though he was still hunched in on himself. “I get now what she was really worried about. I think she figured out I was gay way before I did.”

Eddie can’t look at him but he feels Richie snap upright, sees the way his eyes widen in his peripheral. It would almost be comical were Eddie not currently shitting himself. No one had ever made him feel braver than Richie Tozier. And no one had ever made him want to run for the hills with his attentions either. If he looks at him now, he knows he’s screwed so he plows on, addressing the wall in front of him.

“I mean, I know she did. I didn’t figure it out until, like, today. I guess I knew but… Yeah. She made me so fucking scared of myself, what I was – what I am – that I could never even face up to what it was, you know? Even the fucking clown knew before I did. The leper, all of that shit, I think that’s what it all meant. It wasn’t just infection. And I buried it so deep, like I could make it go away. But…”

He finally dares to look at Richie and he can’t help it. He laughs. Richie’s eyes look like saucers and he’s sitting as stiff as a board. Somehow it gives him the confidence to keep going, squaring his shoulders as he tries to sit up a little straighter himself. “Sometimes I’d forget to bury it so deep. When I was with you guys, I felt like I could be myself. It was easier to forget that loving you was wrong.”

Richie’s face does a complicated somersault of emotions before settling on the one they’d started with that Eddie had wanted to get rid of. That desperation mixed with fear. Shit. In an attempt to salvage the situation, Eddie starts to say, “I know that-“

“More than 2 members…” Richie mutters almost to himself.

Eddie stutters to a halt, staring back at Richie in disbelief. “…Are you making a dick joke right now.”

“What- no! No, I-“

“Richie, I swear to god, I just come out to you-“

“No, seriously! I’m not shitting you-“

“-I confess that I- that-“

“The cousin!”

Eddie stumbles once more, frowning. “What?”

“Bowers’ cousin,” Richie says and his hands are hovering around Eddie as if he was preparing to keep him in place. Still is. “I left out the part that he was a…well, a he. A boy. It was a boy. And I ran out of there so fucking fast, man. Guilt, shame, blah blah blah, the fucking bingo card of repressed bullshit and I had a full house. I was always so scared of people finding out. That I liked…boys. But then I went and carved our initials on the Kissing Bridge, so I dunno, maybe I wanted people to know. Or I just wanted to get it out of me, somehow.”

It was Eddie’s turn to run through a gamut of emotions in seconds. “You carved your initials into the bridge?”

“Yeah, I dunno. It just felt important to do. Pretty dumb actually cos anytime we cycled across the bridge after that I’d just be losing my shit the whole time thinking you’d see this R+E and figure it out. Remember when you came off your bike and you scraped up your arm or whatever and I was a total dick and wouldn’t let you stop and clean it up until we’d moved off the bridge? You fell like right below it. It was right there above your head.”

Eddie’s brain has stuttered to a halt, trying to keep up with what Richie’s saying. “Wait. You meant… ‘our’ initials, as in…” he points between the two of them. 

Richie frowns, playing back what he’d said in his head, eyes widening at Eddie’s confusion. “Yeah, not ‘our’ as in me and that kid! Fuck no. I don’t even know what his name was, fuck him. He was just…there. And you weren’t. And I hated that.”

They sit in silence for a moment, each of them processing the monumental shift in their reality. But the strange thing was, it didn’t feel all that monumental. It just felt…obvious, almost. Like, oh. Finally. Here we are. We made it.

Eddie is the first to break the silence. “Repression’s a bitch, huh,” he says with a tight laugh.

“Yeah, no shit,” Richie replies and his tone is light but he’s watching Eddie like a hawk, eyes studying every micro-expression. “You know, they say that 1 in 3 people in a friendship group is probably gay. We should have known. Statistics don’t lie.”

“You just made that up.”

“No, I read it somewhere-“

“You fucking made that up, shut up, stop talking,” Eddie says but he’s laughing properly now, something unfurling inside of him. It feels a lot like relief. He sees the same reflected in Richie’s eyes but there’s still some hesitation there.

“Hey,” Richie says, poking him in the thigh, as if Eddie’s attention wasn’t already solely on him. He takes a deep breath. “I think I’ve been in love with you for the last 27 years.”

Eddie grins at him, wincing as it pulls at the wound in his cheek. “You don’t fucking say.”

“I do and I will. Can’t have you taking all the bravery plaudits today! Also, can I just say: ’It was easier to forget that loving you was wrong’? What the shit. I am so telling Ben about that. Suck it, Benjamin. February embers? Whatever, man. He’s got nothing on Derry’s next Shakespeare, Eddie Kaspbrak!”

“Alright, you need to shut the fuck up.”

“You love it.”

“I love you,” Eddie says and almost melts at the soft, watery smile that breaks out unbidden across Richie’s face at the sudden declaration.

“Well, shit,” Richie says, clearing his throat when the words come out at an embarrassing pitch. He pulls Eddie into a one-armed hug. “Guess I could think of better uses for my mouth,” he continues, leaning in slowly.

He freezes when Eddie flinches back, then pulls his arm away as if burned. “Right, sorry, too much too soon. Got it. Reign it in, Trashmouth,” he says with an empty chuckle. Then blinks rapidly as Eddie flicks him on the forehead. “Uh.”

“I really, really want a fucking shower before you kiss me. And since there’s a dead guy in my bathroom, I’m using yours. And then maybe we’ll go to the hospital after all because this?” he says, pointing to his cheek. “Really starting to fucking hurt right about now.”

Eddie suspects that he’d lost him the moment he said ‘kiss’ because he’s just staring at him a little dazedly but he nods and points to the bathroom as if Eddie might have somehow missed the only other door attached to the room.

Eddie rifles through his suitcase for a change of clothes and then points at Richie who hasn’t moved from where he’s frozen on the bed and says, “If you even try and come into the shower with me, I’ll kick you in the nuts.”

“Promises, promises,” Richie says, falling right back into their old dynamic.

Eddie hesitates as he’s about to close the bathroom door. “Wait, is that some kind of kink I should know about?”

“Really not,” Richie says and neither of them deign to mention the way the tips of his ears burn red. “I’m gonna go…catch up with the others. See if they’ve sorted out their 27 years of pining.”

“Yeah,” Eddie yells through the bathroom door. “About time they figured their shit out.”

“I know, right?” Richie yells back, grinning from ear to ear. “Fucking idiots.”

~*~

By the time Eddie gets out of the shower and into some fresh clothes, his cheek is hurting like a motherfucker and he’s pretty sure he’s swallowed more blood than Dracula ever did in those stupid schlock movies Richie loved to take him to. But he’s clean.

As he heads down the stairs, he can hear Mike before he sees him pacing up and down the lobby. As he makes his way down, all eyes turn to him and he realises that Bill’s joined them as well. Ben and Bev grin at him with all too knowing smirks (well, Bev’s is a smirk, Ben looks like a proud dad watching his son descend the stairs in his prom tux which is…weird). Eddie turns to Richie with narrowed eyes but he can’t maintain it in the face of Richie’s almost giddy expression. Instead his stomach swoops and he almost slips on the bottom step.

Before he can even acknowledge any of them, Mike is right up in his face, gripping him by his forearms and shaking him. “What happened?” he says as the others are all yelling a series of ‘woah woah woah!’s and ‘easy, Mike’s. “How did you kill it?”

“We already told you, man,” Richie says, moving to stand beside Eddie who was still just staring wide-eyed at his friend’s assault. “He choked it until it got all weird and small, then stomped on it. Job done, end of story!" 

Mike let’s go, running a hand over his face. “But…but it was meant to be about the group!” he says, beginning his pacing again. “There was a whole ritual. The tokens, the deadlights…We all had to be together for it to work. It was about the bond. The pact that we made 27 years ago.”

Eddie frowns, clenching his left hand into a fist, remembering the searing pain as he had squeezed the life out of It. “The scars,” he mutters.

“Yeah, they’re gone,” Bill says, holding up his hand to show that his has vanished like the rest of theirs.

“But did you feel the burning?” Eddie asks. “You mentioned it, right?” he turns to Ben who nods, rubbing at his own palm.

“It felt like when Bill first cut it open. But for like 5 minutes straight, that same pain."

Mike nods. “Yeah, I felt that too. You think…?”

“It was weird,” Eddie says. He’d forgotten about it in the moments after but thinking back now, he remembers that strange feeling of not being fully in control of his body. “I think…this is gonna sound weird-“

“I think we’re pretty past that needing to be a warning, Eds, but thanks anyway,” Richie chimes in and gets an elbow in the ribs for his efforts.

“I think,” Eddie continues, rolling his eyes as Richie grins back at him, “that you were all kinda…helping? I think that’s what the burning was. Like, all of us still being connected even though we weren’t together. I didn’t feel like it was just me. I dunno, some mystic childhood ritual bullshit, whatever! Are you really gonna tell me that’s less believe than some Native American Chad ritual?” he says, fidgeting under their scrutinising gazes.

“Chüd,” Mike corrects and he’s stopped pacing now, just looking at Eddie curiously. “It’s possible. I mean, it has to mean something that we all felt it at the same time.”

“There’s something else,” Eddie mutters, hesitant.

“What is it?” Mike asks, voice open and understanding. Putting Eddie at ease for the ridiculous sentence that’s about to come out of his mouth.

“I heard a voice. Telling me how to kill It. That I had to crush its heart. It was so loud but like…in my head. But not yelling, just like a rumble. Loud but soft. And I’m pretty sure it was-“

“A turtle…”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Beverly. Her eyes are distant, as if looking at a memory long forgotten and she blinks herself out of it, surprised by her own voice.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “Yeah, actually.”

“I remember. The deadlights. It was trying to tell me something but I couldn’t…I couldn’t hear it. I just knew the turtle couldn’t help us. Not then.”

“Ok, that?” Richie says, too loud for the room. “That should have come with a ‘pretty crazy’ warning. A turtle? What the shit?”

“Maturin,” Mike says and there’s a ripple through the room as the name settles on all of them like a security blanket.

“Oh,” Richie says and even though it means nothing, they all understand. Oh. That name we’ve never heard before but is somehow part of all of us. As deep as the blood pact. As deep as Derry. As deep as It itself.

“I guess he could help us this time,” Bill says, wrapping an arm around Richie and another around Mike. The others move closer in until they’ve formed a circle, each of them with an arm wrapped around the other.

After several seconds of just basking in their triumph and togetherness, Eddie speaks up. “Guys? I hate to break up this moment but I really need to get to a hospital.”

“Shit,” Richie says, breaking the scrum to tilt up Eddie’s chin and grimace at the state of the gauze. “Alright, let’s go Spaghetti. Bill, you’re with me. You guys, uh, figure out what to do about Bowers.”

They all blink at each other, suddenly remembering that there was in fact a dead body in one of the rooms upstairs that would probably need to be accounted for.

Richie drives them to the nearest hospital where they dodge several questions and ignore the tuts aimed at them for waiting as long as they did to come in. Once the stitches are done, Richie and Bill walk in to assess the damage. Richie whistles. “So, can we expect a badass scar?”

“She said probably but it won’t be that obvious over time. It’s a pretty neat slice. Said I was lucky someone did such a good job of cleaning it up in the first place.”

Eddie knows Richie was about to roll into some ridiculous tirade about scars but stumbles at the unexpected praise, offering him a lopsided smile instead. Eddie walks across to Richie, biting down on a smirk as Richie’s eyes widen further and further with each step he takes.

“Hey,” he says once he’s directly in front of him.

“Hey?” 

And then Eddie’s kissing him.

It’s pretty chaste, all things considered. Richie too nervous about the wound and Eddie to nervous about, well fucking everything about this, really. But it’s nice. It’s everything.

They pull apart, smiling at each other, Richie’s eyes looking a little glassy and Eddie hoping to god his don’t look the same. Then the smile drops off Richie’s face. And he turns his head to the side.

Bill’s desperately trying to bite down a smile. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Richie and Eddie say at the same time, both still very much in each other’s personal space. “Uh,” adds Richie, for emphasis.

“It’s fine,” Bill says, waving them off, “I think I already figured it out when we were kids.”

Richie throws his hands out to his sides. “What the fuck? Did I have a sign on me or something?”

Bill shrugs then asks, “Hey I always wondered, was it you who carved that R+E on the Kissing Bridge?” 

A series of strangled noises escape from Richie’s throat before he’s grabbing Eddie’s wrist and marching out of the ward. “We’re leaving. Bill can walk, let’s go,” and they power walk out of the hospital, trailing a chuckling Bill behind them.

~*~

Once they arrive back at the Inn, it’s to find the body removed and the police having already been and gone. Apparently they’re as ineffective as usual, even without It’s influence, all too ready to brush the whole debacle under the carpet. No one’s going to miss Henry Bowers, after all.

It’s already dark out and the day is starting to catch up with the group.

“Who knew saving a whole damn town from a demon clown and a murderer all in the same day would wipe you out so much,” Eddie says, reclined on the couch in the common area, feet propped up in Ben’s lap.

“Hey, does this make you a superhero?” Richie asks, leaning on the bar, holding a glass of whiskey that he hasn’t actually drunk any of yet.

“Don’t,” Eddie says, closing his eyes. “I beg you.”

“Spaghetti Man!”

Everyone groans. Beverly throws a balled up napkin at him.

“Eddie the Cleaner! Get it? Because like a cleaner is like a hitman but Eds likes things to be clean?”

I’m begging you to stop,” Bill says but he’s laughing from where he’s sat.

Richie looks like he’s about to do the exact opposite but he loses his train of thought as Eddie straightens up, moving to stand. “Turning in?” he asks, tone softer.

Eddie’s lips tick up into a smile. “That was kind of my point. Big day. Got a lot of shit to sort out tomorrow. Phone calls to make. Proceedings to start.” Richie swallows, nodding his head in a jerky motion. “You should get some rest too,” Eddie adds. “You look like shit.” It gets the laugh he’s after and they both head up the stairs together and no one comments on the fact they both head into Richie’s room.

Ben and Bev take their leave soon after. Instead of heading upstairs with the others, Bill heads for the bar and pours himself a glass of bourbon. Mike joins him, taking up one of the stools.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks, watching as Bill stares at the liquid in the glass before sighing.

“It’s stupid.”

“Tell me anyway.”

Bill chuckles but it lacks humour. “I’m glad It’s dead. Obviously. I feel…lighter than I think I ever have. But.” Mike waits. God, Bill wishes he wasn’t always making him wait. “I don’t feel like it’s over. For me. I needed one more chance.”

“You needed closure,” Mike says and Bill lets out a sharp, shaky breath, the full force of the words hitting him with the truth of it.

“I can’t explain it,” he says and his voice is shot, tears welling up in his eyes. But Mike patiently waits for him to try. “I know Georgie’s gone. I know he’s never coming back. But I feel like I needed to finish this, for him. For all of us. I let you all down. Stan is…”

The dam breaks and Mike takes the glass out of Bill’s shaky grip, wrapping his hands in his own. “You’re the one who brought us together. Who kept us together. You forged the bond that allowed Eddie to beat It. You did enough, Bill. We all sacrificed enough.”

Bill nods, sniffing and trying to wipe away the tears on his shoulder so as not to remove his hands from Mike’s grip. “I’m sorry, Mikey.”

“For what?”

“Almost bailing. You stayed here all these years so we didn’t have to and then we all come back only to run away again? 27 years wasted.” Bill shakes his head, grimacing at the thought.

“Well, I wasn’t gonna let you all go without a fight, I admit. I wasn’t above slashing some tyres,” Mike says, keeping his tone light and smiling when he’s rewarded with a watery laugh.

Bill frees one of his hands to lock onto the back of Mike’s neck and draw him forward, allowing their foreheads to touch. He breathes out a shaky breath as he says, “Thanks for looking out for us, Mikey.”

“Always,” he says. 

~*~

“God, can’t we just get something on the road?” Richie asks as he carries his duffle bag down the stairs, Eddie and his suitcases in tow. “I don’t wanna give this shitty town my money. Morning!” he continues, addressing the other four Losers who are already occupying the lobby.

“You’re in a good mood,” Beverley says, not even attempting to keep the smirk off her face.

“And why not, my dear!” he says, adopting a terrible British Voice. “The evil has been vanquished. We are free men!” At Bev’s raised eyebrow, he adds, “And women! ‘Tis a new dawn, friends.” And then, falling back into his regular voice, he continues, “One that I refuse to spend in fucking Derry.”

“Amen!” Mike says, raising a glass of what looks like orange juice.

“See! Mike gets it, let’s go! Vamos!”

Everyone’s shaking their heads at Richie but they’re following him out to their cars, bags in tow. They hear Mike’s phone start ringing. Followed by the glass of orange juice smashing to the ground.

“What happened?” Ben asks, running back in, the others close behind as they stare at Mike staring at his phone. 

With a shaking finger, he answers it, putting it on speakerphone. “Hello?”

“Uh. Hi. …Mike?”

“Yes?”

“Hey. It’s, uh. It’s Stan. So, funny story…”

~*~ 

The next ten minutes consist of the six Losers listening to the seventh explain how rumours of his death may have been somewhat exaggerated.

He talks about Mike’s phone call. About the fear. About the bathtub. About the nothingness. Then a searing pain in a hand he didn’t even possess anymore. And then a giant cosmic turtle. Then waking up in the bathtub.

It was crazy. It was all impossible.

But what wasn’t for them? 

Once Stan finished his story, he waited for them to ask their questions. Instead he got:

“You need to get on FaceTime right fucking now, man.”

“Richie-“ Ben, says.

“No, I’m not kidding,” and it’s clear to all of them in the room that he’s not, he looks about on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “FaceTime. Now.”

“Ok, just-“ Bill starts, but Richie talks over him.

“No, look, we’ve dealt with more than our fair share of bullshit, OK? Forgive me for thinking this is a little too good to be true!” His voice cracks at the end as Eddie grabs his wrist from where he’s standing next to him, trying to ground him. “I just want to see,” Richie says, voice quieter.

“OK, Stan, can you do a FaceTime?” Ben asks.

“I don’t have an iPhone,” comes the voice on the other end of the line.

Richie scoffs, running a hand through his hair, voice raising several octaves again. “Of course! He’s probably got a goddamn Nokia.”

“It’s an Android, dick,” Stan says and Richie’s face crumples into a complicated mix of frustration and hope. “Does anyone there have a laptop? We can Skype or something.”

“I do,” Bill says, already rummaging in his bag for the device.

“OK, great. My username is stanley_uris76, all lower case.”

“How long did it take you to come up with that?” Richie asks before he can stop himself.

“About as long as your first time, Trashmouth,” Stan quips back and Richie lets out a sharp breath, blinking back tears as he digs his nails into his palms. They can hear Stan continue but a little more distant as if he’s moved away from the phone, “Sorry, Patty! He’s just-! You have to with him. You’ll see, you’ll get it. Call me back,” he adds, addressing the group once more before hanging up.

Bill’s already logged in and setting up the call, making sure they’re all squashed into the frame of the webcam, almost climbing on top of each other.

“It can’t be possible, right?” Richie says, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself. Or unconvince himself.

“There was something…” Eddie starts, the five of them turning to look at him. “After I killed It. The same voice, the turtle, said thank you. But like, it didn’t feel just like he was saying thank you. It felt. Bigger. So, I dunno. I kinda stopped questioning things after ‘cosmic turtle’.” The sentiment is met with general noises of agreement.

All six of them hold their breath as they wait for the call to connect.

And then there he is.

A face they’ve never seen before but all at once they know.

“Hi Stan,” Bev says, lip trembling even as she beams at him.

“Hi, guys.” There’s a chorus of ‘hi’s, most of them varying degrees of wet. “Satisfied, Rich?” he asks, eyebrow raised but smile soft.

“You know me,” he replies, making a valiant attempt at stopping his voice from wobbling. “When am I ever satisfied?”

Stan chuckles before his attention is caught by something offscreen. “Did you want to? Yeah, I’d like you to. Come here. Guys? This is my wife, Patty. You, uh. Spoke on the phone.”

A woman sits down next to him, offering a small, self-conscious wave to the webcam. “Hello.”

The room choruses with a round of ‘Hi Patty’s before Bill says, “You’re taking this really well.”

“No, not really,” Patty says but her smile is self-deprecating, rather than panicked. “I know Stanley hasn’t told me everything and I don’t think I could even begin to understand most of it if he did. I don’t think I want to. I’m just…relieved, right now.”

They nod in understanding. “Hey, Patty?” Richie asks, already grinning.

“No,” Stan says.

“You know, we’re missing out on a lot of gossip about our boy Staniel…”

“No.”

“…and we were thinking-“

“What, don’t drag us into this!” Eddie chimes in.

“-that you’d probably have some juicy stories for us from the past several years.”

Stan’s sigh is straight out of their childhood and they all feel the same wave of nostalgia hit them at once. It’s gone as soon as it arrives as Patty replies with a tentative, “I can probably help with that.”

Richie squawks in delight, grinning at Stan’s look of mock betrayal before he kisses Patty on the cheek. “Oh, did you already send those letters?” At Patty’s nod, Stan turns back to the webcam. “So, I sent you guys some letters but I guess that’s kind of pointless now. But it was all really nice and poetic and from the heart and whatever-“

“Oh shit, that reminds me,” Richie interrupts as he smacks Ben on the shoulder, “I gotta tell you about something later.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, fighting down the sudden flush in his face as Ben turns to look at them both and says, “Uh, OK?”

“Also, can I just say,” Stan continues, drawing their attention back to the screen. “It’s about time you two figured your shit out.” He says it with a teasing lilt to his voice but it’s softened by the pleased smile on his face.

Richie throws his hands up in the air. “Oh my god, OK, is there anyone here that didn’t know about mine and Eddie’s big gay love for each other or was it just us?”

“Rich-“ Eddie says but Stan talks over him.

The wicked glint in his eye is clear even in the shitty 480p video quality. “Hey Richie. I was talking to Ben and Beverly." 

Eddie sighs as Richie drops his arms to his sides like lead weights.

“Shit.”