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“Hi,” this woman’s lipstick is smudged. It is smudged, right on the side of her lip, and it is disgusting and uneven. “I’m Charlotte. These will be intimate, closed group therapy sessions,” she says that as if it were something to be remotely proud of. The exclusive club for freaks and losers. “Every week. Let’s start simple. Why don’t we have everyone go around the circle once, and share their age.”

He doesn’t know how she expects him to listen to their ages when her lipstick is disgusting and there is a small ball of spit at the corner of her mouth. He doesn’t know why she expects him to care regardless.

He is sixteen.

“And, now, your names.”

His name is Stanley Uris.

“I’m sorry, Stan.” his mother told him four days prior, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Stanley Uris was sixteen when he accidentally dropped his mother’s wedding ring down the sink.

He screamed at her earlier that night, because she cooked food while wearing it. He screamed at her until she took it off, and showed him how recently it had been cleaned. It was far from clean. It had small specks of grime in the cracks between the stones, and the band was smudged from long wear. It was disgusting, and now the germs in it were in his food and all over the entire goddamned kitchen and on his clothes and probably already in his mouth. He snuck into her room in the middle of the night and slipped it off her finger again and when he tried to scrub it off with a toothbrush it slipped and then it was down the sink and she was crying but all he could think about was washing his hands.

Stanley Uris took steps carefully, so his feet fall evenly between the tiles as he was paraded down sterile white halls until they come to a desk.

“Hi,” his mother said, “he’s here for group therapy.”

The woman behind the desk tried to shake his hand.

Stanley Uris stared at her.

He was told as he walked down the hall how good this will be for him, to have children his own age to relate to. The doors swung open on the most motley looking crew he had literally ever seen. The girl with short, scruffy red hair and scabs on her chin, and the boy who looked like he could snap in two at any given moment and the only one he recognized is the one he barely knew in middle school but his brother disappeared and his stutter got so bad no one could fucking understand him and they shipped him off to some boarding school for it.

"All of these children have ocd?” his mother asked tentatively

“Oh, no,” the nurse explained, “Derry is a small town. This is a collective group of children that need solace, for various reasons.”

Stanley Uris wouldn’t sit down until they let him wipe down the seat with wet wipes.

They sat in silence and waited because the last of them is late. A boy with enormous glasses and clear authority issues was all but shoved in exactly seven minutes and thirty six seconds after when they should have started and the first thing the boy said was “what time is this over?”

Stanley Uris is sixteen. He is sitting there in their circle of seven. He listens to each of their names, Ben Beverly Bill Mike Richie Eddie, and he can only think of one thing on a continuous loop:

This will never work.

Charlotte tells them, with her chipped nails and her wrinkled button up shirt, that they're going to play a game. Because games will keep Stan’s eyes from twitching at how crooked the boy across from him’s glasses are. He should have just broken out UNO years ago. Genius.

Stan settles his eyes where it doesn't bother him to look. One of them, a kid with dark skin whose name Stan has already forgotten, is wearing pale blue scrubs with a gray zip up hoodie over the top. He isn't wearing shoes. He must live at the hospital already. Stan wishes Charlotte would have him explain why, and not have them play a game.

Charlotte is reading from a paper and then boy with the dead brother is nodding solemnly as he listens to the instructions, brow furrowed in concentration

“Please answer these questions with either one word or a very short phrase. Speak only when your name is called. Answer quickly with whatever comes to your mind. Do not attempt to justify or explain your response. Try and listen to your peers and hear where you are similar. Do not react verbally, judge or laugh at your peer’s responses. Do not try to interact. This is a quiet activity. If you do not feel ready to answer, you may pass, and if you pass again the round will move on from the question. It is imperative to be honest as possible. If you are uncomfortable at any time, please raise your hand.” Stan waits for her to ask for questions because he has several. She doesn't offer the option. She begins.

“If you could live in one t.v. show, movie, or book, which would it be? Bill.”

“Pass.”

“Richie.”

“Pass.”

“Eddie.”

“Pass.”

“Mike.”

“Pass.”

“Stan.”

He pauses. Brilliant game, lady. Really taking off here. Guardians of Ga’hoole he thinks as he says “pass.”

“Ben.” 

“Pass.”

“Beverly.”

“Harry Potter.” She answers clearly. Beverly sits confidently. She has mud crusted on the toe of her boots and ink smudged on her arms.

“Bill.”

“Harry P-P-Potter.”

Richie looks perfectly content to live on the world he does, “pass.”

“Eddie.”

Eddie waits a long moment. Eddie is wearing a polo shirt and looks like he's composed purely of nervous energy and bandaids. “Pass.” He says finally.

“Mike.”

“Marvel Universe.” He answers. Eddie looks almost affronted, as if he just told himself he couldn't say that.

“Stan.”

“Guardians of Ga’hoole.”

“Ben.”

“Star Wars.”

There's no follow up. There's no discussion. There's just the next question. “If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be? Richie.”

Richie almost outright laughs, “space.”

“Eddie.”

“New York.

“Mike.”

“Home.” Something about the scrubs makes that worse.

“Stan.”

“Pass.”

“Ben.”

“Paris.”

“Beverly.”

“The seashore.”

“Bill.”

“I-I d-d-don’t know.” Not here, Stan thinks.

“Stan.”

“Not here,” he says before he even realizes it was on his tongue.

It flies by. They rotate around the circle like a spinning top. Stan feels his head twisting with it. His mouth forms words he’s barely considered. He answers like he should, quickly and without thought. He feels docile and lost as he listens to it rotate. Stan’s mind can't keep up with the overload of information. He feels like the only answer he really hears is the first person to answer for that round.

“What is the color of love? Ben.”

“Red. Soft red. Like sunset after it's rained. Or...fire.”

“If you could smash one object in the world and face no repercussions, what would be? Beverly.”

“An enormous mirror.”

“What is your biggest worry? Bill.”

“N-never f-fuh-fuh-fully rec-covering.”

“Who is the most influential person of our lifetime? Richie.”

“Mickey Mouse.” Eddie looks somewhat annoyed with Richie’s apparent inability to take this seriously. Richie meets his eye and laughs softly. They've broken a rule. It goes unacknowledged by Charlotte. The game spins on anyway. Stan can't focus on anyone else's answers that round. He can barely zero in on one a round.

“Who is your biggest role model? Eddie.”

“Pass.” He later passes again. Eddie often takes a long time, and passes even more so.

“What is a skill you wish you had? Mike.”

He looks distant. “So many,” he says after a pause.

“What is the biggest waste you know?”

Stan takes a deep breath and when he expands his hands his fingers crack. He exhales and inhales again right after. “My time,” he answers, happy he doesn't have to explain whether he meant in there or in general because he doesn't know.

The game keeps going. Stan doesn't listen until after the next two rounds.

“What is the ugliest thing you know? Bev.”

“Him.” She says almost instantaneously. Stan would like to know what that means. Stan hates this game.

“Bill.”

“Death.”

“Richie.”

“Complacency.”

“Eddie.”

“Pass.”

“Mike.”

“Bigotry.”

“Stan.”

Everything he thinks as he says “pass.”

“Ben.”

“Pass.”

“Eddie.”

Eddie takes the longest this round that he's taken. After a moment so long Stan starts to count the number of times Richie’s leg has bounced, he says “fear.”

“Stan.” It seems so honest, that Stan consciously says what he thinks, too.

“Mess.”

Or he comes close to it.

“Ben.” Ben waits a long moment, too. Not as long as Eddie, but the moment stretches.

“Me.” He answers finally.

Charlotte doesn't blink. Beverly takes a small, sharp inhale of breath. Stan examines his shoes. They're still tied. Charlotte doesn't wait a beat, “what will always bring you joy?”

Stan doesn't like that the game keeps going. He can barely keep track of the answers. How is he supposed to listen if he's stressed about what to say himself? How is he supposed to use this information to understand any of these people? The game tumbles forward but he can barely pay attention to it. Ben has a stain on the chest of his shirt. Eddie’s legs are so thin his knees protrude. Whatever comes to his mind spills out when his name is called.

“Who would you follow to the end of the earth? Stan.”

“No one,” he spits out before he can even think about it, it just tumbles out.

“Ben.”

Ben is breaking a rule. Ben is looking at him.

“No one,” he answers with a soft nod.

“Beverly.”

“Pass.”

“Bill.”

“N-n-no one.”

“Richie.”

“No one.”

“Eddie.”

“No one.”

“Mike.”

It's a very long pause, but it ends with a sigh and a small utterance of “no one.”

“Beverly.” Beverly looks up at them. She seems to take a sweeping gaze across the circle. For a moment, Stan’s stress settles. He's hit with a thought again. He thinks it never left. He thinks it was there in the back of his mind the entire time. The dumb game just distracted him from it.

This is never going to work.

“Anyone,” Beverly answers crisply. “As long as it's an adventure.”

Chapter Text

you would expect two different waves

crashing together

you would expect different hues of greenish blue

and maybe a muddled line in the middle

 

but standing in between two oceans is standing in the same body of water

the salt, and the sand in your toenails and the sun grilling your neck

 

two oceans are the same body of water and yet so entirely different but you’re not sure where the first one ends and the second one ends but you know somehow that they are different they are not the same everflowing unit one is the atlantic and the other is the indian and they can’t be the same because they aren’t the same even if there is not a precise line cutting them down the middle.

 

ben hanscom thinks his life could most easily be sectioned into two pieces. either side of the line he couldn’t see - couldn’t fathom - felt relatively the same. he is still stocky and his hair is too short and he still prefers honey nut cheerios to every other breakfast cereal. but his hands are wrinkling in new waters, salt is burning at the corner of his eye from a new piece of the map.

the line was hastily drawn and he’d never be able to remember the time down to the second which is a travesty because at least with books you can go back and look at the page number, mark it down to exactly where and when everything changes. he’ll at least remember the day.

he’ll remember the day the rest of his life.

he doesn’t know how or why or exactly when but he knows his life changes the moment he meets beverly marsh.

 

he sees flashes of a future in that hour and a half in her presence he sees tea towels with quirky phrases and sunspotted curtains and a five floor walk up but its more like a dance up that’s what they do with their groceries and he can almost hear the record player yes its a record player and its playing a song ben doesn’t know yet but he will he can hear it thrumming in his heartbeat and he just knows it’s going to be his favorite

 

the following week, he writes. he writes so much his finger aches but somehow red hair makes aching fingers feel like the brushes of hummingbirds and aching shoulders are transformed by blue eyes into into a massage from the heavens themselves.

“ben,” his mother says his name as if it’s a eulogy sometimes, “ben.”

she doesn’t see it. she hasn’t seen beverly. she can’t know the beauty in what ben’s created. she doesn’t see that the splashes of ink on the paper, crumpled out all across the floor of his bedroom, co-mingling with the chips and the empty cans and the dirty clothes, it’s all her. he doesn’t see the pink fingertips in the lines after scribbled out lines or the chapped lips in the wrinkles of the paper because his hands just gripped it so tight. so tightly. he needed it to to be right and it wasn’t there were millions of words out there and somehow there was no way to combine them to properly describe the curve of beverly marsh’s mouth. there wasn’t a word yet that was beautiful enough for her.

“i don’t understand,” his mother had nearly cried and ben didn’t think she was on the verge of tears for any of the reasons he was. “benny, why can’t you put this much effort into real things”

ben had waited all week for this meeting and it is worth it because he doesn’t know what his mom is talking about. he doesn’t know anything more real than the way beverly unwraps her scarf, rubbing the edge of it along her pink nose.

“hi ben,” she says, grabbing a seat next to him. “you’re early.”

“i got out of school early,” it was a lie, he asked for the bathroom pass ten minutes before class was up and his teacher just sighed and let him go and then he ran here because the idea there might be a moment of beverly he could miss out on killed him.

“your school work, ben.” his mother had insisted.

as if anything his teacher could have said would have been more real than watching beverly nod along to what the lady, ben doesn’t remember her name, is saying. bill starts talking first. he’s soft spoken and beverly leans in so she can hear him and of course she does. he can practically see the light shining out of her face, inviting him in and holding the room with warm consideration.

“i w-w-was 12,” bill is saying. beverly’s eyes cast to the side. she spares a look for the boy whose jacket looks like it’s been burned at the edges and his glasses are still crooked on the face and he has the same stand-offish posture he had last week, arms folded and leaned back.

or it might be for the boy next to him who looks ultimately incredibly displeased that they’re sitting in the same seats. ben could not be more pleased and he can’t manage to pity him.

whichever it is, bev doesn’t linger long before looking back to bill. “w-w-when he d-d-disap-p-peared. And...everything…”

“went to shit?” richie guessed and bev inhaled sharply next to ben. stan makes a chuffed, amused noise on his other side. he looks over at him for the first time since sitting in the circle. his smile is crooked as if he knows he shouldn’t find it funny. mike, on his other side, still wearing the little blue scrubs and no shoes, looks like he agrees.

“uh.” bill looks at richie. “i m-mean…” he looks around the circle. “yeah.”

ben looks back to bev and a small smile cracks at her lips, just enough to see her front two teeth. he’d spend hours in the next week trying to create a metaphor to describe the sight of the white between the pink.

“learning an instrument.”

there is enough music in the way beverly reacts to the new people in her life. a little harmony in how she arches forward with interest, blinking right on the drum beat, hands gripping at her knees in their own imitation of piano keys.

“i was about that age, too.” richie nods, not changing his posture but his words let them in a little more and bev goes towards him, shuffling towards the edge of her seat. “what about you, eds?” he elbows the sour looking boy on the other side.

“what about me what?” beverly’s eyebrows crumple. her eyes scan richie, probably trying to figure out his game. it seems like eddie is trying to do that too.

“when did your trauma start?” richie is smiling.

“my trauma, you fucking asshole, has been going on since before i can remember.”

“alright, guys,” the lady intervenes, and beverly looks relieved, but her eyes are bent at the corners with a bit of sorrow. “let’s redirect.”

“a sport.”

“my doctor says i need to be here,” mike says, looking distant. “i don’t know what i’m looking to get out of it.”

“mine too,” beverly agrees and nods and ben would be content to listen to the same two words on a continuous loop if it were her voice saying them. “i...understand you.” their eyes meet and they nod at each other and ben is proud of her for making connections because she smiles in the moments after.

“what about you, ben?” the lady asks him and he looks up, realizes all of the eyes of the group are on him.

“hmm?” he hums, passing his gaze across them all so he doesn’t have to look at any of them long enough to put himself back into his skin. he realizes he hasn’t been there in a while. he doesn’t know where he is, but it feels like he’s floating a few feet above the circle. he knows his body on the floor, in a chair, even. he just doesn’t feel like the rest of him is. like he’s somehow removed from the entire thing and he doesn’t know if he wants his feet on the floor.

“what are you looking to get out of this experience?”

he shrugs.

the thing about feet on the floor is that you’re there and when you’re there people can see you and if they can see you they can not like you they can hate you the way it seems like everyone does or should or he doesn’t know but he does know it’s safer up there in the air, really.

“anything, benny.”

“what did you talk about in the group today, ben?” his mom asks when he’s tucked into his seatbelt and his fingers are itching for a pen because beverly touched his shoulder on her way out, a small brush of fingers and it was so soft and gentle that he was sure that the brush of feathers wouldn’t accurately describe it but he didn’t know what else would.

“i-” it’s only then that ben realizes he didn’t actually say anything all session.

Chapter Text

what are you looking for, eddie ? charlotte, his new group therapist!’s, voice asks him as he sits down on the crinkly paper of the docs office. he glances as the charts on the wall. he studies them every week. they never change! delightful!

one day they will and what’s wrong with him will be there in black ink. it’ll be written out across the wall in plain lettering and he’ll never have to wonder again!

it’s out there, somewhere!

his pediatrician’s nurse gives him smiley face stickers! it’s without fail! he sees the same doctor he’s seen since he was maybe three years old, and he gets the same sticker.

her face is almost nervous as she hands it to him this week. this week. he’s in the office again! every week! if not twice.

hey, kiddo ! her face smiles down at him, looking oddly reminiscent of the smiley face sticker shoved into his palm. if he squints at her through the haze, he can almost make out the yellow round face, thin black line painted over her mouth. maybe one day you won’t be a fucking freak who has to be here every week!

he thinks about bolting for just a minute. but dr. keene is good. dr. keene is not his mother and dr. keene also wants him to get better. eddie thinks back to what charlotte told him two weeks ago. she had pulled him aside after group and she had said to him that it is not as different as you think it is, eddie! he couldn't shake it since. eddie kaspbrak was going to be better. better soon!

“hi, eddie” dr. keene greets him gently. “what are you here for?”

“please sign this.” he holds out the note to the doctor who still seems to tower over him the way he always did.

“what is it this time?”

“i coughed on some dry chicken and now i have bronchitis,” he jokes like a normal boy! normal boy eddie kaspbrak!

dr. keene smiles, reading the note for himself.

his mom, as dr. keene knows, can’t drive him there, not anymore! well can’t is a relative term. won’t! drive him! is more appropriate. she sends notes now. notes scribbled out on brand new stationery. there’s always so much stationary. so many planners. planners with started lists and two pages filled and maybe one birthday scribbled down. notebooks with two pages ripped out one was a pharmacy list, the other that note he has in his hands! he doesn’t sign it right away, he attaches it to his clipboard.

dr. keene eyes his knees. “i’d like to check your weight, eddie.” he clicks his tongue as he sets down his clipboard.

“that won’t be necessary,” eddie stands up confidently and pretends he didn’t feel his ankles crack under him. he holds his hand out for the note, which is still on the clipboard. “i have taken your advice to heart, you know that, sir.”

how could he not! the back of his mind screamed the advice at him constantly. whenever he hauled in an amazon delivery box of snacks or a qvc package of candles. whenever he saw his mother, passed out asleep on the couch at 4 p.m. or staring reproachfully out the window before demanding eddie go get the newspaper from their lawn.

of course, weight issues are often hereditary, Eddie! dr. keene had said once, many years ago. So, please be careful!

dr. keene watches him carefully. “how’s the asthma?”

“what asthma?” eddie answers because that’s the answer! he still has that inhaler that’s empty in his backpack all the time because he and dr. keene agreed it was time to stop the phony prescription the first time his couldn’t drive him to the doctors! dr. keene doesn’t need to know that!

it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie! charlotte tells him as he lies to the doctor.

“are you going to that group i recommended?”

the one i have to bike two and a half miles to get to because you said it would help and i will do anything to not be my mother? eddie thinks.

“once a week,” eddie nods.

dr. keene signs the note!

 

hey eddie! hey eddie! hey eddie! small gremlins seem to have taken over his large intestine. they shout at him the way his lungs do when he moves too much. it’s all in a fog now, the way the voices he hears in real life do. they gurgle loudly in protest constantly, making him feel like he half needs to double over, half needs to vomit! it’s like a constant guess who of gastric movements!

mike has a cold today, probably because he lives in a hospital! god knew what was even waiting in that room, waiting to dig it’s fingernails into eddie’s skin.

you need to be here, eddie, he thinks. he hears charlotte’s voice even though she herself is literally three feet away from him, about to start the session, it’s not as different as you think it is! you have to try, eddie!

“switch seats with me,” he tells tozier. tozier blinks down at him.

“wassit, mate?”

“i don’t have time for your multiple personality disorder, tozier. switch seats with me.”

“eddie, we don’t joke about diagnoses,” charlotte warns with a tender glance to someone else in the circle. eddie doesn’t notice who, because his gaze is fixed on tozier.

“you’re fine where you are.” richie rolls his eyes, settling down in his seats. eddie lurches forward, going to grab for richie’s wrists, until he notices they’re smeared with an alien grey substance. he balks, his hands hovering above his arms. richie laughs and it sounds as dirty as his arms look.

“worried about catching cooties?” richie asks, blowing a bit of the ? dust? ! off of his arm and in eddie’s direction. eddie stands up quickly, moving out of the way of the debris. he falters in his steps, seeing the circle spin! a ride! step right up to a merry go round starring the wheeze-y boy and his circle of losers!

strong hands are on his arms. “eddie, are you okay?” oh, fantastic news, it’s the disease boy and he’s being touched! fantastic!

“don’t,” eddie rips himself out of his hands, stumbling forward on shaking feet. he won’t faint if he says he won’t! if he decides he won’t! “fucking touch me.”

“eddie,” charlotte’s voice is laced with concern and, there it is! it’s written all over her face! it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie!

“richie,” bill’s voice says at the same time and somehow his has more power in the room. “don’t be an asshole, switch seats with him.”

when richie does, eddie knows it’s not for him! why would it be! eddie doesn’t collapse into the newly vacated chair, he simply trips a little on his way down! and when richie looks up at him, for the first time, he looks at eddie the way everyone else does! like he’s a fucking freak! glad to know he’s at least on trend, eddie thinks.

 

eddie wears shorts that are too small! oh, yes, he knows they are too small! they’re blue too, and not the kind of blue that lets him fade into the background where he belongs. they’re cyan blue. blue with just enough green. blue that screams, hey there world, here i am! please don’t invite me into your social circle, because i don’t know how to fucking dress myself!

eddie does and doesn’t.

eddie thinks he could if he were given the opportunity to.

of course, weight issues are often hereditary, Eddie! he hears Mr. Keene tell him strictly. So, please be careful!

he stares at the neat lunch box that he was given in the sixth grade. his mom could order a new dust ruffle she couldn’t actually put on the couch every week, but new lunch boxes were out of the question.

he plans to throw out the contents of it.

it’s ham and cheese on bread and peach cup and pretzels and all he sees is carbs! carbs! carbs! written out across the lunchbox. actually, no. he thinks of that experiment they did in the fifth grade where they measured out all the fat, salt and sugar in average food servings. the fat in a heaving plastic baggy and the sugar and salt in their own. that’s what he sees in front of him. not a sandwich.

it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie ! he hears the voice of charlotte.

he hears laughter to his left and he looks up. his head snaps too quickly in their direction. he feels dizzy, vaguely nauseous. a large group of rowdy boys are laughing. eddie doesn’t know if it’s about him. he can’t focus enough to listen hard enough to any one piece of the disjointed symphony of sounds that is the cafeteria. he sets his chin in his palms and watches for a second. richie tozier is in the center of them now, with something in his hand. they laugh again. eddie thinks maybe they caught eyes for a second, not that he’d acknowledge they’d spoken on school grounds. he thought maybe richie would actually introduce himself with a fake name to the group, when they started three weeks ago. richie seems to have a knack for being someone else.

eddie blinks hard, looking one way and then the other in the cafeteria warily.

what are you looking for, eddie! charlotte demands in the back of his mind. he stares down the lunchbox one more time.

he takes four pretzels and nothing else and tosses the rest and tells charlotte’s haunted call of it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie! to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!

 

he sits in his next classroom ten minutes early and he checks webmd because there is a strange itching ache under his knee that won’t quit. he thinks his teacher started leaving the classroom open intentionally after finding eddie sitting there waiting too many times! there’s nothing he can find. he checks twitter next, because sometimes it is nice to stare through the bars at the zoo at what the rest of the zoo animals were doing! even if it doesn't change anything! even if you are still the only one of your species! even if it still meant you’d be sitting by yourself in a classroom during lunch with 9 followers on twitter and four of them are your cousins!

there is a retweet about midway through his timeline that catches his attention. greg dwyer, a guy he had just seen in the cafeteria, had news to share with the world approximately 12 minutes ago.

greg d @wash-n-dwyer 12:32 p.m.

why wear bright blue short shorts when you can just tattoo faggot across your face instead?

thirty six people thought this was worth sharing as well! great news in derry! hey, eddie! his lungs yell at him vaguely. raincheck on the breathing thing? why not try tomorrow!

eddie presses his dry aspirator to his mouth. eddie wheezes, going light-headed. he hears a cry from outside a window. one of the cars is on fire! cool! eddie throws out his pretzel and watches the fire through the bars at the zoo and doesn’t think it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie! once.

Chapter Text

 

Mike Hanlon sits in his individual session at the hospital. It’s in a single office with sunflowers that don’t help the drear. The walls are grey. The desk is grey. Everything is grey.

“Hi, Mike,” he could tell the other kids in the group session were entirely unappreciative, but Charlotte is a much better therapist than who he talks with daily. Her name is Sarah. She always wore her brown hair in a too-tight ponytail. She always speaks in a saccharine sweet tone. It’s overly soft. Like a harsh noise might have him jumping out the window at any moment. Like he could spook. Like an animal. “How is your week going?”

“Fine,” he replies plainly. “How was yours?”

She ignores his question. “Have you been making progress?”

“Progress on what?”

She frowns. He almost feels successful. He thinks he is wearing her down. It obviously isn’t her plan for their sessions. She used to blink. She used to ask him to explain how he’s feeling. But now it’s been four weeks. She grits her teeth. She tries to look sympathetic as she explains “your depression, Mike.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he blinks. He is not trying to sound sassy or talk back. He replies with honesty, “I don’t have depression.”

“Then why would you try and hurt yourself, Mike?” She spits back finally. He had told her the story many times. He wonders if she’s hoping that one day it’ll change.

It’s August and the end of a horrible, hot summer. The shirt on his back is sticking to him, and he wipes at the sweat on his face. He can’t wait, it’s only one more summer before he can use the truck to make deliveries.

He stops at a gas station for a water and a pack of jerky, eating out from by the smokers and garbage cans. He doesn’t talk to them, they never tried to talk to him. He tosses the empty packages, going to grab his bike which is leaned against a chain link fence. In the gravel lot behind the gas station, he’s brought to a pause. There’s a teenage boy knelt over in the middle of the empty lot.

“Excuse me,” he felt his voice getting ripped out of his throat before he could think better, hot summer sun making his head dizzy, “are you okay? What are you doing?”

The boy, lengthy black hair falling to his collarbone and a weird, smug smirk on his face, leans up. “Is it your business?” He’s older than Mike, and much taller than him, too. Mike realizes he’s not alone all too late. Two boys stand by a fence, leaning back on it and fixing them with a steely gaze.

“Patrick,” one of them yells louder than necessary, “fucking get on with it.” Mike looks up at him. Even from the considerable distance, he has a jaw filled with acne despite probably being out of high school.

“I’m working on it,” Patrick replies easily, standing to his full height with a grin that verges on predatory. He cracks his knuckles, the ends of his fingertips are dusted with white, “fucking Harambe over here had a question first.”

Mike takes a wary step backwards, “excuse m-” he glances down at the set up. There’s a small pile of dust leading to what looks like a small explosive. It seems like Patrick is trying to set up an explosive but didn’t have enough powder to light it from a safe distance. Mike’s throat dries out.

“Fuck off, kid-” the other guy yells from the fence.

“Nah, nah.” Patrick grabs him by his shoulder and Mike freezes “he’s gonna do a favor for us.” Patrick grins, as if this were something Mike had asked to do. As if he had begged him for it, just by existing. Patrick kicks at the dust with his boot, pushing it even further towards the explosive. Patrick held up a shining, expensive looking silver zippo lighter, inches in front of Mike’s face. He flicks it, and it lights. “Light it.” He instructs, grabbing Mike’s wrist and dropping the lighter into his hand.

“That’s s-so-” he stammers, fingers clenching around the lighter, feeling like the silver itself is burning his hands.

It’s there then, the burning of his hands, it’s back. It’s there, searing the skin off his fingertips as he tries repeatedly to open the handle of the door. Thick ash is filling his airways as the dark smoke swirls around his head and he’s burning his hand but all he can really sense, all he really knows is the pounding on the door. The screaming.

Patrick’s elbow cracks him in the back of the head, and he buckles, falling onto his knees. “Are you fucking STUPID OR SOMETHING? I SAID LIGHT IT, RETARD.”

“I ca-” he looks to his left, sees Patrick’s skinny legs, and then his right. He doesn’t see a door, there isn’t a door. Patrick kicks him in the side, and he falls, open hand scraping against the pavement.

“LIGHT IT!” Patrick screamed into his ear. Mike jumped, set back into reality, back into the parking lot behind the gas station. He scrambles to his feet, set to just run, to drop the lighter and run to his bike. Patrick grabs him by the back of the shirt. He chokes, feeling the collar of his shirt cut off his air, his feet slipping on gravel. Patrick spins him, and lands a hard punch on his cheek. Mike can almost hear it better than he can feel it, and he can see Patrick’s friends by the fence running, maybe towards them. Mike, with everything he has, shoves Patrick off of him, and he stumbles back a step. He hears feet behind him, crunching on the gravel, men yelling, a loud whistle, and then shouting to, “ put your fucking hands up .” Patrick steps back again, and falls on the ground, hair in his face, flush pink on his face in the heat. Mike whips around, confused, holding his hands up.

“HE’S GOT A FUCKING GUN-”

All he knows then is the scrape of the gravel on his cheek, the shattering thud as his head is slammed into the ground, the rusty taste of blood in his mouth. He thinks there might be a boot on his back, someone holding to the ground although he doesn’t fight to be anywhere else, someone else forcing his hands to his lower back, taking the lighter he never wanted out of them.

When he forces his face to the side, graveling indenting itself in his cheek, the first thing he sees is Patrick getting consoling pat on the back by an officer.

The boot on his back presses harder.

Mike blinks at her. Blinks at her and sighs.

“I have no idea,” he responds finally.


“I duh-don’t know, I th-t-tuh-th-t-th-”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Richie out-right laughs at him. Mike feels the calm energy of the group start to distort. It curls in on itself, “are you gonna get there sometime this l-l-l-li-lifetime?”

“Richie,” Eddie beats Charlotte to the punch with the disapproving look. “Shut the fuck up.” Mike gets the feeling Eddie likes Bill a lot. He understands. He likes Bill, too. Mike feels like so does Richie. Mike has a feeling Richie is just jealous.

“It’s f-fuh-fine, Ed-d-die-” Bill speaks over Charlotte again, “ruh-rather have a m-mushmouth th-than a f-fuc-fucking t-trashmouth.” Bill grins at Richie when he says it. His tongue almost sticking out of his mouth. Richie blinks. He then laughs out loud. “Buh-bet e-v-ven his buh-b-breath, smells l-like g-garbage.”

“You’ll have to ask Eddie’s mom about that one,” Richie seems like he’s going to grab Eddie’s shoulder. Eddie scrambles towards Mike. He makes a disgusted noise. It’s similar to the one he made last week when Mike was sick, but in the other direction. Richie’s hands seem to be perpetually dirty. Just to be fair. Mike turns and smiles at Stan. He’s smiling at the antics. Like a “can you believe this ” smile. Stan doesn’t smile back. Stan keeps his eyes on Charlotte.

“Let’s regroup, shall we everyone?” Charlotte interrupts. Mike looks to her, catching Bev’s eye on the way. Bev smiles. Beverly is missing a tooth. It is relatively near the front. There is a gap about two away from her front tooth. Mike smiles back. Bev shuffles her sweatshirt over her hands. She looks to Charlotte. Bev is wearing thick makeup. It is almost unnaturally orange. It is completely unbalanced compared to her pale neck. "Stan," she redirects, "I'd like if you started our next activity."

"Bill always starts," he replies. Stan doesn't sound like he's complaining. It's just an objective fact. Bill starts.

"I'd like you to this time," she replies. She doesn't really take his words into account. She doesn't ask if this is okay. She doesn't ask how he feels about it. "We'll do the first part together, but I'd like you to speak first." She tells him. She places her messy clipboard more thoroughly on her lap. She tells them all to let their bodies lose connection with themselves. Mike's hands hand freely down at his sides. His feet are separated so his legs do not meet in the middle. "Please, shut your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Take them on your own time. Do not think of the others around you."

"I'd like you to think of a time this week," Charlotte has a clear tone to her voice. Soothing in her own way. "That hurt you, in some way. Whatever way that may be. Revisit that memory, it is okay." Mike doesn't know what to think of. He can't think of anything from that week that made him feel particularly one way or the other. Everything was the same mottled gray. "Think of that pain, where it impacted you." She speaks gently. "Tilt your heads down," she instructed. Mike did. "Open your eyes," she tells them. Mike sees the greenish blue of the scrubs he wears daily. His slippers. The gray of the hospital floor. Everything is always gray. "I'd like you to think of yourself as you are. You are here." She tells them. Mike doesn't know why it makes his shoulders ache. "You are a human." She tells them things they know in a way that makes Mike think that he didn't. "You are not alone." She pauses. Mike stops breathing for just a moment.

"One by one," her instructional voice is back in full-swing. "I'd like you to lift your head, and then repeat after me. After you repeat the second statement, I'd like you to touch yourself. Hug yourself, hold your hands. Whichever way you see fit." She exhales audibly. She inhales just as much so. "Stan."

For a moment, Mike doesn't hear anything. He stares at the stitching of his pants. "That was suffering," Charlotte tells him.

Stan hesitates a moment before replying. In the smallest voice Mike had heard Stan speak with, Stan speaks "that was suffering." Stan sounds stunningly solemn. Something pulls at Mike's throat. It feels like...hurt. It feels like sadness. It has been so long since Mike's felt particularly anything that he almost doesn't recognize it. 

"I was suffering, but I am here now." 

"I was suffering," it's a near whisper, "but I am here now."

Charlotte waits. Mike hears a small rustle next to him as Stan shifts to hug himself.

"May I hold myself with compassion."

"May I hold myself with compassion."

"May tomorrow be as kind to me as I will be to myself."

"May," Stan's voice, even as soft as it is, noticeably cuts off. Mike is sure no one else in the circle can hear him swallow. Mike does. "May tomorrow be as kind to me as I will be to myself."

Mike doesn't know how emotion permeates a room the way it does. Or, at least, he hopes it does. He hopes everyone is feeling this rugged tug in their throat. This searing sting in the corner of their eyes. But mostly, the pressing of the chest that makes him accept what is. 

He looks forward to holding himself. He'd like to be touched.

"Richie." She's made her way around the circle, almost to Mike now, just two left. 

"That was suffering."

"That was suffering," Richie sounds different than the rest of them did, and it pulls Mike out of his own head space. Richie sounds plainer, flatter. Not at all tender.

"I was suffering, but I am here now."

"I was suffering, but I am here now. Hey- can I touch myself in whatever way I see fit?" 

Richie has reached up. He grabbed whatever emotional blanket was sitting on the room. He tore it down the middle. Whatever spell Charlotte had them under is broken. Mike looks up. He wonders how he stared at one place so long and never got bored. Most everyone else is looking up. Stan still stares at his lap. Eddie stares at his own fists. They are curled and angry in his lap.

"Richie," Charlotte sounds ... different than Mike expected. He expected her to be pissed. She hardly sounds disappointed. She mostly sounds empathetic. 

"FUCK YOU," Eddie stands up. He spits it out. He sounds furious. A tightly wound spinning top. He is read to fizzle out all over their circle.

"Eddie-" Charlotte stands. It is the first time Mike has seen her stand mid-session.

"I DON'T FUCKING CARE IF YOU'RE TOO FUCKING COOL FOR THIS." Eddie is screaming. Richie is blinking. He still looks amused. He is smiling. "I DON'T GIVE A SHIT IF EVERYTHING IS A GODDAMNED JOKE TO YOU. STOP FUCKING COMING. NO ONE WILL MISS YOU." The smile falters. It is only for a half a second. When it comes back, it is exuberant. It is unnatural. The muscles in Eddie's back only tighten. "SOME OF US WANT TO GET BETTER, GOD-FUCKING, shit,-DAMNIT." Richie laughs then. Probably at the mixed-up swear word. Eddie makes an unintelligible noise. He grabs his coat and backpack from under his chair. He has to balance himself using the chair. Richie keeps laughing. 

"Eddie, please, sit do-"

Eddie only seems to move faster at the instruction. He kicks his chair out of the way. He storms out of the room. The door slams behind him on Richie's laugh. "He's a fucking delight," Richie tells the group with a grand smile.

Mike Hanlon hugs himself. 


The next morning, Mike wakes up to a day that is not different than his other days. He stares at the ceiling. He does so despite the several wake-up reminders. His roommate is gone. They never really talk. Mike stares at the ceiling. He doesn't see any particular reason to get up. This lasts a period of time. He doesn't know how long.

"Mike, buddy," a nurse enters. He doesn't know their name. It is odd they've called him buddy. "Do you need help getting dressed?" It is a threat. 

Mike gets up.

Mike passes by a metal gurney on his way to breakfast. It is empty. It is gray. A nurse is doing a bad job at pretending to not be following him. He wishes he had pockets so he could put his hands in them. He just presses his hands against the cool gray push bar of the door that opens into the cafeteria.

Mike Hanlon blinks.

Richie Tozier, ruffled black waves and heavy glasses, is sitting at the edge of a cafeteria table. He is wearing blue scrubs. 

Chapter Text

she Holds it so tenderly. her fingertips are fairy Light on her arm as she Cradles it as if she Knows she is the only one to touch bev’s skin Gently. “ms. Marsh,” she tells bev that day in the nurse’s office, but truthfully, it is Most days in the nurse’s office. not all days. some days are different. somedays she is Beverly marsh, and she is sobbing and she yells. today is she is beverly Marsh and the nurse is holding her arm gently. her name is gwen, she always has her hair pulled tightly back from her face, it is graying at the corners. near the hairlines there are little flecks of gray, but it doesn't go unmatched to the soft lines in her freckled skin. gwen touches her skin too often, she is worried often. she doesn't have children of her own, and bev thinks that's a shame. she'd love them.

“it’s Fine, gwen,” bev insists with what she knows is a Winning smile as she sits up. “It only hurts if i do This,” she bends her arm back awkwardly, and the bruise on it Protests loudly under her skin.

gwen gets her the advil she came for, and beverly does not mention the bruises on her ribs.


 

it only hurts when she puts her backpack on. it twists her posture back as she looks out the window of her second period of class. it’s getting colder. she can still smoke outside during lunch, but not for long. not forever.

she takes the long way to her usual hideaway, eyes skimming over the open doors of the cafeteria. she looks for weak spots. she looks for hiding holes. somewhere she might Belong or if she doesn’t Belong at least where she’s not visible and Herself.

she stops when she sees him.

he sits by himself. she doesn’t know how he manages this. there are too many kids, not enough desks, in their grade to begin with. how does he managed to procure six seats around himself, entirely empty. his hair is too short for his small face, and he keeps his head down. he doesn’t eat. she wants to Smoke and she also for some reason wants to sit with Eddie Kaspbrak. she knows he will not like it if she smokes, and probably won’t want to join her outside.

there are Sometimes people outside. she talks to them. she wouldn’t call them Friends but she supposed others might. she didn’t know what made a Friend count as a Friend.

“Hey,” she greeted eddie with a Smile. she thinks he could use a Beverly Marsh.

he jolts, and he looks on guard.

“hey,” he greets her, shutting his lunchbox quickly. it is full. he is scrolling on his phone, which he locks quickly.

“can i…”

“of course!”

he frantically prepares Nothing for her. he is uncomfortable that there is nothing to do, but it’s a lunch table, Eddie. she’s already fond of him, feeling her heart open, wanting to hold him in it. he looks like he needs warmth, or something like that. she doesn’t know why she Cares for the things she does. it seems as if the Universe just hands them to her.

he flounders for something to say, and she doesn’t know how to tell him she’d be okay with just sitting together. “richie hasn’t been in school,” is what he says finally. she hadn’t noticed. she doesn’t particularly care for the crowd he surrounds himself with.

she twists as she sets her backpack down behind her.

it only hurts when she twists her body awkwardly.


beverly Marsh really doesn’t mind the therapy sessions. they’re okay. she is surprised to see richie in front of her wearing the scrubs mike has been. the two sit together without eddie asking them to, they’re there when she and eddie walk in. she offered eddie a ride with her mom. the car ride was quiet. it Always is. her mom never Knows what to Say. she wonders how eddie normally got there. it was a long distance from the school. mike and richie are laughing, heads bent close together. like it’s a Secret. they’ve changed the seating arrangements without discussion for the first time. the circle is open, there are five available seats.

eddie sits next to richie.

“new Look, tozier?” bev asks jovially, knowing a Joke is the only way he’d talk about it.

“new spring Channel collection,” he poses Dramatically. “Only available at the Haus au Hos-pee-taahl.”

Mike laughs. Bev continues to shake up the seating arrangements, and sits next to him.

bill came in behind her, and he too, grins at richie. “new d--duh-digs, huh?” he says to richie. he scans their new seating arrangements. he drops his stuff next to bev and sits beside her. she smiles at him.

it only hurts when she moves.

for the first time since sessions started, their time before is filled with chatter. richie starts telling a lavish story about a fellow resident. he doesn’t come close to mentioning why he’s there. bev supposes that’s his Right. mike hasn’t mentioned it Either and Mike has been there way longer.

charlotte comes next, grinning ear to ear at the chatter. richie recoils a bit, and stops talking. he doesn’t trust adults. or he doesn’t like them. or Both. bill fills in. he stutters so Often it’s sometimes Hard to understand, but bev likes the Sound of his voice anyway.

ben comes next, and for the first time since they’ve begun, he doesn’t greet her with a smile. it was what she came to count on in sessions. ben always smiled at her. he doesn’t frown, but he looks terse. he sits in between bill and charlotte, who took the same seat she’s always taken.

the last to come is stanley, while bill is talking about a funny sketch on SNL. stan stops about midway to the circle.

“everyone’s moved.” he says, from a far distance in the large gaping room.

“a change of scenery never hurt,” charlotte says with an encouraging smile.

he is frowning, and not coming any closer. “it’s always been the same.”

“everything changes, stanley.” richie reminds him. it seems like a sour choice of wording, regarding his own clothing.

“it was Fine like it Was.” he is raising his voice and beverly marsh is shrinking back. her smile fades, and something tenses in her stomach.

“stan, i think everyone was jus-”

he points as he speaks “charlotte, bill, eddie, richie, mike, me, ben, beverly.” he points to the chairs, the wrong placement they are in now. “that was Fine,” insists frantically. he’s only gotten more worked up since walking in. “that was GOOD. it was GOOD!” he Shouts at them and beverly inhales sharply.

it only hurts when she breathes.

“chill the fuck out-” richie starts but eddie smacks him.

“shut the fuck up.” eddie replies sharply. richie squints down at him, looking ready to retaliate. it is a Mess. everyone is upset. bev should have never sat there. it was her Fault. if she had sat in her original seat, the only difference would be richie and eddie. stan is Upset. she Upset him and he's yelling and it is her Fault she should have never sat there in the first place. bill stands.

“w-we can all g-guh-go b-b-back to where we-we-we were.” he announces for the group, calming the tension. something still stings in beverly marsh’s ribs when she inhales. “it’s n-n-nuh-no b-big deal, right, g-g-guys?” he asks but it is not A Question.

mike hanlon is the first to follow, but they all go. bev dreads picking up her backpack again. she kicks it to her old chair instead.

“where are the antibacterial wipes?” stan asks charlotte, finally approached the circle with a ghastly white face.

it’s been weeks since he demanded those.

beverly marsh tries to hunch over, sit more comfortably in her chair. her ribs cry out in pain. she jolts back up, hand coming to her face. she realizes there are tears, thick and sticking to her mascara, just at the corner of her eye. she pulls her sweater over her hands and stabs at her tearducts, forcing them back in.

it only hurts when she cries.

Chapter Text

bill denbrough wakes up at eleven past two. his mom stopped trying to wake him up at decent hours a few months ago. his mom stopped caring far earlier than a few months ago. he blinks slowly in the bright light of the late afternoon. his computer is on his floor. he glances down at it. it’s amidst chip bags and empty bottles and strewn clothes. he doesn’t look at it long. there’s no inch of his hardwood floors that he can see. it’s not as big of a pang in his chest as it used to be, to look at it. it’s more like a dull ache in between his ribs that started months ago and hasn’t stopped. maybe years. he isn’t sure.

he wonders when it’ll start being strange. when it’ll start feeling foreign. it’s as if he has taken over someone else’s body. or someone else is in his. and he can’t bring himself to care. caring is almost more difficult than anything else.

he wants so badly to care about the unfinished assignments in his online schooling docket. he looks at his computer again. it tugs at his chest a little, but only hurts worse if he thinks about it. he distracts himself. it doesn’t matter, anyway. he’s so behind now there’s no way to catch up, he doesn’t think. not this semester. he doesn’t know what he’ll tell his parents. he’ll catch up in the spring. it’ll be better in the spring. things will be different in the spring.

somehow his body has been scooped hollow, like a pumpkin or something. yet, it weighs heavy. heavy enough he thinks about his breathing. heavy enough he thinks about not breathing.

it’s not on his mind constantly. it’s not even like he really wants to die. but if time could join him in the perpetual pause it feels like his body is undergoing… it’d be nice.

he thinks about it sometimes. when his mom drives him to the group sessions and another car zips by carelessly. what it’d be like if that car just slammed into theirs. it’s not like he’s planning to die. he’s just… at comfort with it. if the feeling of rotting from the inside out would actually kill him, he isn’t sure if he’d particularly mind.

he wonders sometimes if georgie is waiting for him. if there's anything to wait in. if it's just a swirl of endless nothingness. if it's just dark. bill doesn't think he'd mind either way. his favorite thing to do right now is sleep, anyway. 

he remembers when it wasn't. he remembers, after georgie disappeared, wanting to be constantly awake. everything was relevant. everything was loud, and pressed hard on his lungs. he was in pain. he was in so much pain, but he was so very alive. georgie was everywhere until two years after being shipped away to the school, georgie was suddenly nowhere. bill lost any sense of his presence. bill lost any feel of his touch on his heart. bill lost most of his feelings. except for this urge that wouldn't quit, an intrusive thought that barged itself in, time and time again, that it was supposed to be bill. that it should have been bill. that things would be better, so much better, if it had been bill. his parents probably agreed. they don't even like to look at bill. 

but for whatever reason, it’s bill, not georgie, who opened his eyes this morning. it’s bill with the shot. shot at what? bill doesn’t know. but he has a shot at something. he has a world under his feet that georgie doesn't. so he has to try.

it’s half past three, now. bill doesn’t know where his time has gone. he doesn’t know if things would be different if he could have watched it go. if he would have kissed it good-bye. he doesn’t know.

he sneaks into his parent’s bathroom and borrows his mom’s dry shampoo and his father’s cologne which smells stronger than his deodorant and he’s hoping no one will notice it’s been days on days since he’s showered. he brings a backpack with him to group, because everyone but mike and richie bring one and he doesn’t want them to notice he doesn’t need one.

“yeah, well,” richie says, half a session in. he and eddie are still sitting next to each other, but obviously no one has apologized for last week. “it can get a little boring, but mike helps with that,” he held out a hand for mike to low-five over eddie’s lap. eddie scowls. mike met his hand in a tentative five, but smiling. the two had become obvious fast friends. bill almost feels sick. almost jealous. “and the drugs are great, you guys should join us.”

“ugh,” mike smacked a hand on his smiling face, “richie,” he chided.

bill feels his nose wrinkle before he registers it.

“i’d rather die,” eddie insists, shoving richie’s arms back into his space.

“than hang out in the loony-bin with us?” richie leaned an elbow on the back of eddie’s cheer, looking down at eddie’s face with a smug smirk.

“what?” he wrinkles his nose, too. “no. i mean. that’s not. i meant the drugs.” he picks at his fingernails. richie’s leg bounces. “i hated being on drugs.”

“same.” stan spoke on the other side of the circle.

“m-m-m-me too,” bill agrees. “i f-f-felt-” hollow isn’t the right word. he feels hollow now. he doesn’t know. “i d-d-don’t kn-know.”

“i never felt…” stan sighs, eyes looking up to meet bill’s. he shrugs, even with his immaculate posture. “i don’t know.”

“mine weren’t, like,” eddie rubs at his nose, “...nevermind.”

“i didn’t feel like myself,” stan says, as if he’s assessed the situation fully and this is his fully accurate analysis.

“i can’t remember the last time,” bev speaks up, quietly from her own spot for the first time in a while, “that i felt like myself. i’m beginning to wonder if i’d even recognize her.”

“i  t-t--th-think i d-duh-do,” bill speaks. he feels the need to stand, he’s rocking forward onto his feet. he looks to charlotte, who seems to nod encouragingly. he stands. “i was th-thir-thir-teen. G-G-G-G-G-G-G-god fucking damnit.” He swears, pressing his hands into the back of his chair, laugh on his lips. georgie’s name was not fucking coming out. “my b-brother,” he goes with instead, “had j-just gone missing. i th-thought i wa-was the ha-hardy boys, or s-s-something. i r-r-rode m-my bike d-down to the b-barrens. the creaks by the q-quarry? i l-loved my bike. my parents s-sold it a few weeks later, when i g-got sent to the school for s-special n-needs kids because no one could f-f-f-fucking underst-st-and me anym-more. there w-was all th-this wind in my h-hair,” he remembers it vividly. the sun was warm on his neck and the wind sang a whipping sailing song as he wheeled past the trees. his heart was light, dancing in his chest. “i w-was so s-sure i w-was gonn-nn-na find g-g-g-g” he shuts his eyes, “g-g-g-g-” he’s determined, “g-georgie. and i w-was gonna b-b-be a hero and t-t-take him h-h-h-home. it, uh,” he sits back down. “d-didn’t work out-t.”

it’s quiet. bill stares at his jeans.

“i used to go down to the barrens with my dad. i got a good number of boy scout badges in those woods. i liked it there.” stan speaks after a moment. “i haven’t been in years.”

“why?” mike asks.

“mud.”

“w-we sh-should go!” bill shifts forward. stan looks pale. “you c-could ri-ride on my handlebars. no m-mud, i promise.” stan only looks a little bit ill at the thought. bill deflates. “except i duh-don’t have a b-b-bike anymore.”

“i,” eddie squeaks out, almost like he didn’t mean to, “i have a bike.” he seems like he’s decided to commit, “you could borrow it, if you help me pump the wheels up.”

“only i-if you’ll c-c-come, t-too.” bill grins down at him, over richie. “bev?” he calls out to her, across the circle, “ben?” if some of them are going, all of them who can should go. bill thinks he might be over-excited. over-enthusiastic.

“always down for an adventure,” bev reasons. “it’s supposed to be warm on thursday. right ben?”

ben looks surprised to have been acknowledged again, “yes!” he throws in. “yes, we should go.”

“look at this, mikey,” richie pretends to wipe a tear away, “loser’s first playdate. i’m touched.”

mike rolls his eyes, “shut the fuck up, richie.”

charlotte leans in. bill hadn’t even been aware she was leaning out, but she looks pleased. bill hadn’t realized how long they had been talking without any prompting from her. “...can i lead us in a closing activity?” she almost asks bill. bill feels embarrassed, but she looks happy, and he nods and laughs and thinks about bikes and quarries and that things are going to get better. if he had some friends, things would be better. they would. spring would come soon enough.

Chapter Text

MIKE HANLON is a GOOD DUDE. he makes the hospital seem like fucking disney on ice - and THERE’S A THOUGHT RIGHT THERE mike hanlon’s broad shoulders in one of those sparkly little dresses, brighter than a chandelier in one of those whores from the houswives show’s houses. richie doesn’t know ANY WOMEN like that in real life those women he sees on tv and he can just tell they’re whores he thinks that the network has them press printed somewhere -  mike SERIOUSLY makes the time fly by as far as richie is concerned. they're laughing about everything and mike is funnier under his breath than most people are outloud and they make the pathetic board games they have out for them and ACTUALLY MANAGE TO HAVE FUN and better than all that they talk they talk about everything from tits to the other fucking losers in their group to life in the loony bin.

mike tried to off himself or they think he did details are fuzzy in fact and THAT SUCKS but richie wonders if there should be some sort of color coded system for crazy. like if you looked at the room, you’d see a seat of the little blue scrubs, rich included and he is not THAT LEVEL of crazy. he doesn’t belong with them - most of them fucking wackos probably he just knows some of them have plans for burning that building to the ground - in the little blue crazy sea. some of them probably hacked their lover to pieces or someone fucking their lover. all richie did was light ONE MEASLY LITTLE FIRE.

or two or three but no one’s counting except his corrections officer apparently.

it started with the good ol’ purrell in one hand, lighter in the other, and BOOM YOU’VE GOT AN OPTICAL ILLUSION THAT PRACTICALLY GETS KIDS LICKING OUT OF YOUR ON-FIRE HANDS. it never fails  - fire doesn’t anyway - it reflects in people’s eyes and you just know you got it you got their WHOLE GODDAMN ATTENTION. bell starts blaring and everyone moves it’s like the one way to get a whole crowd of people to do one thing at one time. richie can’t blame everyone - fire is … the best. fire is so demanding and hot and always different and unendingly the same and easy to focus on. the world is just so goddamned loud and demanding and different corners yell for his attention all the time but the fire just consumes it and everything gets fucking quiet for just a goddamned minute so he can control the hurricane in his head. he thinks his best when he’s watching fire even if it’s just a couple of matches in his bedroom he’ll light them one after another and watch it burn until it ALMOST touches his fingertips and that’s when he can think of what to write his essay about he doesn’t know why but IT’S NOT A FUCKING PROBLEM he doesn’t, like, get off on the idea of hurting someone or god fucking forbid himself, or anything like that he just likes to watch it.

it was his friend’s idea to light that one wheel on fire and he fucking did it because someone told him HE COULDN’T. he didn’t mean to make the whole car go up. his friends thought it was fucking awesome though so he isn’t sure if he cares or not and HE’LL BE A FUCKING LEGEND when he chooses to comply with what they want him to say and bust the hell out of there - he hasn’t heard from any of them yet but he knows they’re talking about him so good enough. “Fire is bad.” is all it takes. richie will do it as soon as he feels like it. he knows its a fucking lie though fire isn’t bad FIRE IS AWESOME IF YOU’RE CAREFUL and he’s generally careful enough and that’s what matters.

mike doesn’t like his friends he says he doesn’t know them but he doesn’t like ‘em but as far as richie can tell mike doesn’t really know JACKSHIT about friends because he’s been cooped up in this goddamned hospital too long and it reminds richie to NOT LET HIMSELF DO THAT TOO a week maybe two more because he doesn’t want to fucking write the history essay he had to write before he got put here in the first place.

richie rolls his eyes and keeps working on his southern accent so he can make the joke he's been thinking about hay to tony the second he decides to leave.

you see, CHARACTERS? are kind of richie’s THING. but it doesn’t come to him naturally the way that, like, math does. math class is seriously the worst thing in the world because fucking christ she already explained it once how do they have to keep going over this? his teacher frowns AT HIM for not writing notes down while he’s practically rolling his hand forward to indicate to proceed. and then some dumb-fuck like kayla landin is raising her fucking hand to ask a question that ROGER KARAK ALREADY FUCKING ASKED in his little pokemon shirt. someone should let him know pokemon died when smosh died. karak is practically advertising on his shirt that he’s a virgin and THAT’S AN IDEA RIGHT THERE: almost a buzz-feed styled article 10 Sure Fire Signs You’re a Fucking Virgin. 1. You’re Reading This Shit.

solve for x, and you’re done.

but characters are an on-going process. he listens to THE DUMBEST SHIT IN THE WORLD seriously britain one upped their dumb flag with their dumb shows and he mimics the placement of some zip-loc bag filled with mayo covered in blush actor’s mouth until his jaw aches. and not for any of the reason’s eddie’s mom jaw aches.

he grins and thinks about making that joke to eddie’s face. he’ll get that FURIOUS blush all over that richie could practically LICK UP - it’s almost like fire, red and bright and distractingly easy to focus on and out of control and he thinks about it when it’s not there -  and probably just start SCREECHING - hah. fucking loser.

he shouldn’t make himself such easy bait. they all do.

richie probably thinks that’s why he didn’t have any fucking friends till 8th grade if you’re FUCKING ANNOYING people DON’T WANT TO BE AROUND you that’s how it fucking GOES. he was a too loud little shit he learned that screaming isn’t humorous except maybe SEXUALLY. he’s honestly fucking glad when rob tells him to “shut the fuck up” or when no one laughs at a joke or when he’s super annoying and his friends go out without him and talk about it the next day like it’s casual. IT’S CALLED LEARNING. and he’ll get them back even if they don’t want to hear his impressions or they roll his eyes at his stories. he’ll get them back when he drinks whatever disgusting concoction they mix together in carter’s milk box. they’ll laugh then, they always do. why do they sell the milk in boxes anyway? is it just so they got somewhere to paste pictures of missing kids and random ads? richie wouldn’t mind being missing TOO MUCH if there was a sweet picture of him on the milk box.

he wonders what picture they used of bill’s little bro when he went missing but thinks, watching bill as he approaches the circle for group that week, that his laughing little face wouldn’t appreciate it that much. he’s NOT the only one looking at bill.

it’s honestly pathetic, the way eddie watches bill like THEY CAN’T ALL SEE IT. mushmouth must have popped sweet little lamb’s cherry in a flowerbed when the gang of them all went into the woods (the woodland creatures scampered around them in a little circle and wow this is a fucked up version of bambi bambi 2: wheezing nerd gets dicked the fuck down, maybe calms down a bit. wait - is there a bambi two? richie can’t remember. it’s not like his mind is an endless vast of knowledge of shitty disney sequels. maybe it’ll have to be bambi 3.)  while everyone gazed on, or some other sort of MAGICAL MOMENT because they’re all giggling there’s four of them fucking giggling and richie doesn’t know about what and he doesn’t FUCKING CARE either but he grabs a chair on the other side of the circle and whips it around. he sits in it backwards and he laughs like he knows what’s going on and he says “cracking them up, eds?” and eddie blinks at him surprised and richie can only feel his face stretch tighter, “aren’t you going to share with the class?”

“sure, but wouldn’t one need to attend a class once in their life to be in the class?” eddie stumbles a little bit but sticks the landing and richie laughs because IT’LL MAKE HIS FACE REDDER and apparently he’s not getting told this joke so it’s time to haul ass and move on. okay, so he's apparently not invited to club loser. he'll try and remember to cry about it later. he's got his friends at school, and mike here.

“field trip successful then?” he grins at them. mike sits in a chair normally next to him, patting his shoulder. “everyone’s mommies and daddies sign their permission slips?”

“it was really fun,” ben practically GUSHES all EARNESTLY and richie could laugh if he weren’t going to VOMIT. “but no permission slips were needed.” he’s still HONEST how fucking CUTE probably because the loser has never had friends before and doesn’t know what JOKES ARE.

bev - THE BEST OF ALL O F THEM, as far as he can tell. his friends say she’s a little loose but he thinks bev is way out of mueller’s league and he’s got no evidence except that no one will call him out on that - stands, and returns to the seat next to richie, which had always been her seat. “abandoning them already? want a real man, cupcake?” he winks at her.

“why,” she blinks, “do you know one?”

he HOWLS with laughter, barely noticing that stan’s approach to the circle, because eddie has vacated the seat next to bill and sat next in the next seat over, leaving a space for RICHIE to occupy.

he leaves the chair as it is as he leaves it, and plops down next to eddie.

since he got dropped off at the clinic - like the corrections sentence was A BIG OL FUCKING BIRD and he was a LITTLE TWIG it was taking back to it’s nest - their little sessions sped by. he didn’t need them, but it was a sentence he had to finish out so he’d do it. it’s good to have some people to make laugh other than just MIKE. ALTHOUGH IT WAS GOOD TO MAKE MIKE LAUGH.  the first time it happened it was like a deep exhalation of air, room loosening around them. ADDICTING. he kept looking for holes where he could nestle a joke, thinking a step ahead of them. learning to read them so he could predict what they’d say and have a joke whipped out at the end. that is - if bill ever made it to the end of his sentences.

he laughs to himself. eddie looks at him like he’s really enjoying a gratuitous fantasy about STABBING HIM WITH A FORK UNTIL HE DIES. RICHIE LIVES FOR IT.

“ignore him, eddie,” mike tells him softly, “he has to laugh at his jokes by himself because no one else will.” richie grins at him.

“you leave me and prosser’s chess set alone!” richie insists loudly, referencing an old man in the clinic who INSISTS on playing chess by himself in a corner and getting very angry if anyone tries to play with him. he talks to himself. mike and richie laugh loudly.

“prosser’s chess set?” bev asks, looking interested. she shifts so her dress shows a bit more of her thigh. richie tries not to look long. GIRLS DON’T LIKE THAT SHIT.

“we have to make do, you know,” richie stretches an arm over the back of eddie’s chair so he can grab mike’s shoulder. he has to scoot over to reach. he shakes it jovially. “make our own jokes, because we can’t join the loser’s club at the quarry.” he leaves his arm there, resting over the back of the chair.

“why do you talk like that?” stan addresses him finally, and richie thinks it might be the first few words stanny boy has ever said directly to him. “you have to be here too.” and what stan really meant was: YOU’RE A LOSER, TOO.

WHICH: BACK-CHECK, STANNY.

richie HAS friends stan JUST hasn’t seen them probably because he’s too busy staring at soap bottles. lumping him in with eds over here, short shorts mcgee, and benny boy who stares at beverly like he’s getting paid for it, is just mildly ridiculous. this all whirls by as his brain says DON’T SAY THAT DON’T SAY THAT DON’T YOU FUCKING SAY THAT RICHIE and in a decently short amount of time because that’s just how quick it goes he says:

“we all know i don’t belong here, stanny my boy.” is what he ends up saying.

“then why do you come?” eddie asks and his eyes are WIDE in his little sunken, tired face as he looks up at richie from a new angle because of the chair thing. “i mean honestly, genuinely. why do you come?’

“have to, spaghetts.” he winks, “you light one little fire and suddenly you’re unhinged and get slapped on the wrist with loser sessions.”

bill snorts next to him. if bill could manage a sentence, richie thinks they’d be friends.

“i’m sorry,” mike leans forward. “what did you say?” he has a cold, keen look in his eye. completely unfamiliar to the face of mike hanlon.

“fire.” richie repeats, raising his eyebrows. “pyromania: population: me.”

“li-li-lighting one f-fuh-f-fire doesn’t-t m-make you a pyr-r-r-rom-maniac,” bill rolls his eyes.

richie points a knowing finger at him, “ actually, technically : it does.”

“you think this is fucking funny?” mike cuts in harshly. way to whip the air out of the room mikey like a vacuum from hell or something but a hell where it’s cold because the room is ice at the moment like mike is the girl from frozen and they’re all those TERRIFYING somehow sentient snowmen. “fire kills people.”

“so do vending machines,” richie shrugs, “you know vending machines kill like, 11 people in a yea-”

“shut the FUCK UP, richie.” mike yells and stands. and then looks lost like he slept-walk his way into screaming. richie blinks. “i’m sorry,” mike apologizes and it’s DEFINITELY not to richie he makes that clear as day, “i can’t- i’m sorry, can i - charlotte, maybe i please be-”

“you’re excused.” she says calmly as if mike freaking out was as common as bill biting his lips.

mike rushes out the door.

mike doesn’t want to talk to him at dinner HE DOESN’T EVEN LOOK AT HIM he says “i’m sorry richie, i can’t be around you right now,” and he stands up and walks away like this is a chick flick and it’s about to rain. a bad song will play in the background and richie’s mascara will tastefully run but in a way that doesn’t make him ANY less pretty and in this rom com he’s probably not sitting there just eating mashed potatoes by himself. HE’S IN HIS GLAMOROUS MANHATTAN APARTMENT WITH ICE CREAM.

Richie plants his foot on the ground. He crosses his legs at the knee, planting his hands on his lap. He presses them in so they don’t move. His mouth is set in a solemn, hard line. “I realize that what I’ve done was wrong,” he tells his therapist sadly. “I was under the influence of some bad friends, and I was avoiding writing a paper that was due in History. I thought that the fire might cause enough chaos for a delay. I realize that it was an awful way to handle the situation. I think I need to face some things in my life at home, regarding my education and my friendships, with the help of my parents.”

you see, CHARACTERS? are kind of richie’s THING.

Chapter Text

It’s not as if Stanley Uris thinks it’s working. Because it isn’t. Anyone with functioning brain cells would be able to tell you that.

Talking about his feelings was never going to stop germs from creeping into his system from the grime under his fingernails.

He washes his hands so often his skin cracks. He bleeds. He has to wash his hands again, then.

But Stan doesn’t... dread sessions, not anymore.

Sure, Bev’s foundation is slightly too orange for her skin. It makes her look dirty. Stan wants to take a wet wipe to her entire face.

But he couldn’t help but want to be around her.

It’s not as if they outwardly have a ton in common. She is outgoing where he is reserved. She is loud when he is quiet. Stan has never been one much for poetry. He can’t help but think flowery metaphors are a means of prolonging the inevitable. But, if he has to try, she is a spark where he is sand. There’s a metaphor in there. Something something sparklers on the beach. Stanley Uris hates metaphors.

Point blank, he likes her.

And he likes the rest of them, too.

At the quarry it became apparent that Eddie’s easy rage is simply repressed energy. He climbed trees with Bill, ran circles around Ben, who managed to talk, marking plans for a hair-brained scheme to dig out a club house. Eddie talked - about school. About group. About Richie. Sometimes he makes Stan roll his eyes, but he always keeps listening.

Yeah, Stan doesn’t mind group.

There’s something off today. Something wrong. There’s an empty chair in between Bill and Eddie. Neither of them move to fill it.

The empty space, the unusual, and therefore out of control, bothers Stan and his spatial reasoning. He has a hard time participating. He’s staring at it, distracted. Ultimately, he’s glad neither Bill nor Eddie move. He doesn’t really think anyone could fill the seat of Richie Tozier if they tried.

But the change Stan might be most interested in is Mike.

Mike was never Richie nor Eddie, both loud and boisterous in their own, two separate ways. He wasn’t even like Bev or Bill, who spoke freely. But he talked enough, before. Now he’s even moreso withdrawn. He doesn’t speak often, he stares at the floor, or checks the door repetitively.

They’re doing an activity, something to do with grounding themselves. Stan couldn’t pay attention. He leans over to Mike. “What did Richie do?” He mutters, figuring that a blunt question is better than one that putters around. Stan had gone to a 7th grade English course. He could pick out a simple cause and effect.

“What?”

“You got really upset at him, now he’s gone, and you’re still upset. What happened?” One of Bill’s eyes flew open, squinting curiously across the circle at them. Stan looks up. Bev also has her eyes open.

“Where is Richie?” Eddie asks Charlotte.

Charlotte sighs, “I don’t know, Eddie.” She stands, and straightens her skirt. It touches the floor, which makes the hem of the light green skirt filthy. Stan wants to gag. “Let’s take a five minute break, shall we, everyone?” This is odd. They have never taken a break before. She steps back, and away from her chair. She crosses the room to her bag on the other side, leaving them plenty of room to talk. She has never done this.

Stan takes a deep breath.

Ben watches him do so. They meet eyes, and Ben smiles. Stan feels slightly more relaxed, oddly.

Mike swallows next to him, watching Charlotte across the room. “I lost my mom and dad in a fire when I was very little.” He says without interlude, plainly.

Bill gasps, sharp and small. Eddie’s eyes are wide next to Mike. Stan doesn’t know what he should be doing.

“Oh, Mike,” Bev sighs, pressing her hand to her heart, “I’m so sorry.”

He looks up at her, straight into her eyes, “it’s nothing you did.” He fiddles with the hem of his scrubs shirt. He twists it around his finger tips. The fabric will wrinkle if he persists. Stan doesn’t say anything. “We were already pretty isolated from Derry, living on the outskirts. When the building burned down…” he squints at his fingers. “I know people don’t want us here. They made it clear.”

“That’s bullshit.” Stan nearly jumped out of his seat at the loud voice behind his head. He turns, along with the rest of them. Richie is standing there, almost seeming to make an effort to be dirtier than he ever has been. Stan recoils naturally. His boots are caked with mud. His jeans are ripped and covered in patches that are falling off. His hair seems unwashed, greasy, and his glasses are smudged. He plants his hands on the back of Mike’s chair. “You’d have to be a goddamned fucking idiot to not want a Hanlon around.”  

“Richie,” Mike says, blinking in surprise, failing to add anything else.

“So,” Beverly grins at him, “you broke out, huh?”

“Trying to make a date, Marsh?” Richie grins back, leaning over Mike’s shoulder.

“Wuh-wuh-with the m-man who l-luh-looks like he h-h-has-n-n’t showered s-suh-since Y2K?” Bill jokes, eyes running down Richie’s look.

“Like you’re one to talk, Billy boy.” Richie makes an easy joke out of a personal story Bill told two weeks ago.

“You’re here,” Mike blinks, and breathes, like he hasn’t really moved on from that piece yet.

“And a bastard.” Richie looks down at him. “I didn’t fucking know, Mike. Why didn’t you tell me?” He plants a hand on Mike’s shoulder, “know what section of Pornhub the man jerks it to, doesn’t tell me basic information.”

“Ugh,” Eddie whines, “shut the fuck up, Richie.”

“Missed you too, cupcake.”

“Do you have visitors?” Ben’s voice cuts in. Stan’s head whips to look at him. He can’t remember the last time, if ever, when Ben entered conversation otherwise unprompted. It's awkward, for a first attempt. It's like he missed his opportunity to speak when his question was relevant, but he forced it out anyway. Stan tries to smile encouragingly at him, but it feels like an awkward grimace. Bill nods at Ben, doing encouraging much better than Stan could, to clarify his question. “Do people come to see you?” He tries to make it better. It doesn't help much. Still an awkward question.

“Uh,” Mike starts at the same time Richie cheerily responds:

“No.”

Mike stares at him, as if he doesn’t know what to make of their relationship anymore. Stan is certain he’s not alone in that. Richie laughs. He crosses to sit in his seat. Eddie leans away from him. Stan can’t blame him. He’s filthy. He’s making Stan’s hands twitch.

“Don’t feel bad about it, Mikey. I didn’t either,” he leans across the circle, as if he’s telling Ben something privately and not blatantly in front of the entire group. “We chilled together during visitation hours. At least your parents have a good excuse,” he winks at Mike.

Mike gapes at him.

And, then finally, Mike speaks up again.

“You’re a fucking asshole,” he tells Richie nonchalantly.

And then, miraculously, warming up the whole space - and that’s not a bad metaphor, Stan literally thinks the room gets warmer - Mike laughs.

They don't talk much about family. Stanley Uris overall doesn't mind being a Uris. He used to do a lot of stuff with his dad. They'd fish and tie knots and go camping. They haven't done any of that in a while. Haven't...been able to. Mike talks for a little bit longer, about his grandparents being good folk, but a farm is a lot to run on a low staff, and they can't visit as much as they like. Richie mentions his parents aren't half bad, his Dad is just busy and he told his mom to stay away.

The other four stay quiet on the subject.

Stanley Uris is normally the first person to leave. He doesn’t know who follows him. Later that day, he slows his feet. He notices the first person behind him, no backpack to speak of, is Richie. He turns, and he watches Richie catching up, and he waits.

“Stanley the Manly,” Richie beams, hands in his pockets. Behind him, Bev, Bill and Eddie, in that order are walking out together in a line. Behind them, Ben is sitting in Stan’s seat, talking to Mike. He reaches out to clap his shoulder. Stan jumps back.

“Please don’t touch me.”

“Gotta douse me in Purrell first?”

“Not even then.”

Richie laughs, loud and rough, but doesn’t slow his feet to wait for Stan. He seems to have very little interest in walking together. Stan stops, opening his mouth but having nothing to say.

“Hey, fu-f-f-fuc-fuck-f-”

“HEY, FUCKER.” Bev’s voice finishes for Bill.

“Th-thanks, B-Bev.”

“No problem.”

Richie tips his head back, but keeps walking through the halls. “You talking to me?” The three have caught up to Stan. Stan falls in line beside Beverly. He nudges her slightly to the left, so his feet can fall evenly between tiles. She smiles at him.

“Only f-f-fucker out h-here.”

“You finished this time!” Richie enthuses, spinning around to walk backwards. It seems like dangerous behavior for a hospital hallway. Stan doesn’t comment. “Want a gold star, Billy Boy?” He patronizes.

Bill laughs, “S-shove it up y-yuh-your ass.”

Richie looks at Eddie, and Stan can see his eyes twitching behind the glasses, like he has a joke to make. He doesn’t make it. “What’s up?” He says finally.

“W-wh-what’s your ph-phone n-number?” Bill tosses his phone carelessly to Richie. Richie catches it. Stan exhales.

“Asking me to the sock hop, Denbrough? Or are you,” he leers at Bev, ”someone’s wingman?”

Bev gives him her best take on a flat look, but her mouth is teasing and her eyes are sparkling, “trust me, Richie: if  I’ve decided to act out one of your wet dreams, I’ll let you know first.” She cuts back. Richie laughs.

“Why you want this garbage,” Stan gestures at Richie, speaking to Bill over Bev, “in our group-chat is beyond me.” They’re coming up on the exit. Stan wants to pick up the pace, but he doesn’t, or can’t, mess up the neat alignment of the four them in the straight line. He waits for Richie to stop walking. He’s typing too much on Bill’s phone for it to be a phone number. Bill breaks their line and Stan twitches, but he’s ultimately relieved. Bill lunges for Richie, laughing loud and arguing louder. Stan almost smiles, and he looks at Bev, who laughs loudly. Eddie, surprisingly, is smiling, too.

“This is gonna go great,” Bev notes, grabbing at Stan’s shoulder. Her hands have little pen marks all over them. It's all over him. It has to be. It's got to be now, she just touched him. He freezes, deeply uncomfortable, and doesn’t know how to politely shift away.

Eddie’s eyes are on him, then, almost knowingly. Stan wonders just how much Eddie knows.

Stan side-steps for the sake of his own heartbeat, missing the sentences that follows Bev’s little “wha-” and darts out the automatic door of the hospital.

Chapter Text

life on the OUTSIDE, or WHATEVER, isn’t quite what richie wants it to be. or expected. he isn’t sure. it was almost irritatingly difficult to get the hospital to let him go home, but his parents were more than Happy to sign the release because their son was enough of a Freak as it was! they didn’t need THIS adding on to it.

OF COURSE his first night home ended with a massive fight between himself and magz over seeing ANOTHER therapist. fucking ridiculous. she dropped it after the intervention of his dad who just wanted him to ‘get some rest’ like that’s not all he had been doing for past three weeks. but his head fucking HURT because mag’s shrill voice could probably only be registered by DOGS so he called it a motherfucking night.

he isn’t sure now exactly what he was expecting but he’s pretty sure it’s not no one acknowledging him any more than they usually do at their lunch table. he was gone without a word for weeks. their group chat continued on without him, he noticed when he got his phone back. a girl from his chem class asked where he was. that was about it. but whatever. they’re busy. they don’t have time to be worrying about everyone in their group all the time. WHATEVER. he sits there the next day, too, and he laughs when he’s supposed to, when tony’s talking about some girl’s tits. at least it’s not her feet this time. richie’s pretty sure tony has this weird thing for feet but he can’t call him out on that.

and NOW there’s the weird addition on his phone of the fucking loser’s club chat or that’s what he’s calling it in his head. he didn’t plan on replying to it at all but he can’t fucking stop. they set themselves up too easy.

bev 11:48 a.m.
wait bill seriously?

bill 11:50 a.m.
lmao why not
my bike might give stan a conniption though

stan 11:50 a.m.
You haven’t washed it yet?
I don’t have lunch now.
I have lunch during fifth period.

ben 11:51 a.m.
Hey, me too!

stan 11:52 a.m.
Wait, what?
Where do you sit?

eddie 11:53 a.m.
Bill me and Bev are gonna be at the outside tables
near the east entrance
uh
by the football field
giving me lung cancer
but you don’t need to bring me a taco it’s fine
i ate already

richie 11:54 a.m.
eddie eatin too much spaghetti?

stan 11:55 a.m.
When would you have eaten?
During class?

eddie 11:56 a.m.
shut up, richie.
i have a free period during third.
that’s a really dumb shirt by the way
all your shirts are dumb
but that one particularly.

richie looks up from his phone. he looks around feeling like a goddamned tom and jerry cartoon. eddie - in his DUMB little polo shirt - is staring at him from the lunch lines. bev is standing next to him, tray in hand. she waves. eddie DOESN’T.

bev 11:57 a.m.
do you want to come, richie?

richie locks his phone and sets it down face down, and launches into a joke he’s been working on for two nights. he can’t seem to get the wording or maybe it’s the timing right. he HOPES, more like PRAYS, no one saw that little exchange.

no one really laughs at the joke. he thinks it’s the wording.

richie WANTS to go out and vape and no one wants to come with right now and he WOULD go by himself, BECAUSE HE’S NOT IN PRESCHOOL, HE CAN CROSS THE STREET BY HIMSELF TOO, but he knows they’re out there and he doesn’t know what to say to them except i told y’all, i don’t fit in with you, never have, never will.

in the end, he actually does catch a glimpse of bill. right before lunch dismisses, eddie and bev each push their own door into the cafeteria, still laughing almost fucking obnoxiously. bill is just barely visible biking away. eddie’s hair is all messed up by the wind. he’ll probably freak out about it in a few minutes. bev is pink faced and attractive, raking her fingers through her ginger hair.

“see you after school, rich-” andrew claps his shoulder, and he looks up and realizes his friends are gone. he dumps his tray quickly, watching bev and eddie part directions. he thinks about skiving off now, heading home for the rest of the day. his mom wouldn’t want a fight, wouldn’t want to say anything. he could set a LITTLE fire in the backyard. do his essay he hasn’t started. eddie turns down the hallway leading away from the general commotion of everyone exiting the cafeteria. richie picks up his pace and follows him for a few steps. he turns down a hallway that, as far as richie knows, is basically abandoned. richie FUCKING HUFFS, and picks up his pace once again -is this kid on TRACK?

“hey,” he calls down as soon as he ensures that the hall is, in fact, abandoned. eddie jumps, EASILY STARTLED little fella, and presses a hand to his chest - like some hilariously short gay soap opera star - when he spies richie’s face. “cool hairstyle, suits you.”

eddie frowns, looking like a smooshed up teddy bear, and touches his tousseled hair delicately.

“looks like mine after i’ve been to see your mother,” richie leers, finally caught up to eddie. little legs move fast, apparently.

“anything is an improvement on that crow’s nest,” eddie replies. eddie SOUNDS like he’s grumpy as ever, but his tone is fucking. RICHIE DOESN’T KNOW. LIGHT OR SOME SHIT. TEASING, HE THINKS IT’S CALLED.

richie laughs, and pats his shoulder. he leaves his arm there, tugs eddie into his chest. eddie either runs like A GODDAMNED FURNACE, or the SCHOOL has FUCKED UP HEATING in the older pieces of the building. richie doesn’t know where the fuck they are. maybe by the band room. “where you off too?” richie teases back, staring around the area again, “gonna defile some good little christian girl in the band closet?” BOY richie’s mind corrects and ALRIGHT BRAIN WE FUCKING GET IT, HE MOISTURIZES, WE CAN PUT TOGETHER BASIC CONTEXT CLUES, LET’S HOPE HE CORRECTS US HIMSELF.

“what?” eddie struggles away, “fuck you. i’m going to class.”

“fucking where? because if your teacher is tutoring you in one of these closets, those aren’t tutoring sessions, sweetheart.”

eddie’s cheeks flush a HORRENDOUS pink at that. “fuck you.”

“you’ve mentioned it before.”

“fuck- fucking fuck.” eddie is flustered. he fiddles with his back pack, which he has on both shoulders. “i don’t like the main halls, okay? it’s fucking flu season.”

richie takes a few steps ahead of him and walks backwards, something he’s got pretty good at. PRACTICING TO BE A COLLEGE TOUR GUIDE, a joke or something like that. hah- imagine. a tour guide telling some kid to be a tour guide you have to walk everywhere on campus backwards for two weeks to make sure you can really do it. “really?” “no.” richie doesn’t mention any of that thought.

“are the germs,” he wiggles his fingers at eddie, “gonna get you.” he thinks about pinching at his cheek, he’d probably shriek.

“i just don’t like it, okay?” eddie stares him down, clearly looking for a new topic. his feet slow. his breath is catching a little bit. richie really hopes the kid doesn’t die out here on him because it would not look good for richie. he’d get sent back to that hospital for good. “why didn’t you come today?”

richie snorts.

“you would have had fun,” eddie persists. “not that your shitty friends aren’t the life of the party.” they’re at the staircase - wow, richie literally DID NOT know this thing existed - that he assumes eddie goes up. he stares at it like it’s teasing him. like it’s daunting or some shit. it’s fucking stairs, spaghedward.

“my friends are not shitty.” richie corrects. eddie looks at him like he’s waiting for him to go up the stairs first. his class is not up the stairs. his class is on the other side of the building, by that point. eddie looks like he has an encyclopedia set - Alphabeticals By Eddie on Why Richie and His Lunch Table are Absolute Tool Boxes - on reasons he disagrees. richie climbs the stairs. “you don’t get their sense of humor.” he defends as he shoves his hands in his pockets. the stairs ARE empty. he grabs his vape and takes a small inhale. he wishes he could light a cigarette, get that little flame for a second.

“and you do?”

“everyone gets my sense of humor,” eddie looks SKEPTICAL AS FUCK. richie ignores him. “you know me: the man made of jokes.” eddie has paused. richie, out of politeness - YES HE’S HEARD OF POLITENESS, FUCK YOU MOM AND CHURCH AND HIS TEACHERS AND EVERYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE - stops too.

eddie doesn’t look like he wants to reply. he also looks like he'd rather faint than climb the rest of the steps. frail as HELL, all knobby knees and huffing little breaths. “i’m going to be late.” he acts like it was richie who stopped first. weird, delusional little fuck.

“wanna cut?” it slips out before richie can catch it - like a cellphone fresh out of the box, smooth to the touch, slick little bastards.

“excuse me?” the cellphone shatters on the pavement.

“fucking, i don’t know.” richie shrugs. everyone is in class. he could sneak outside with eddie somewhere. fuck, they could stay right there in that stairwell. he could give eddie his first cigarette. show him that trick- FUCKING EASY BUT NO ONE KNOWS -that makes it look like he lit his hand on fire. he doesn’t know. he’d do it. “cut. i’m,” he checks his phone. he has more notifications from the group-chat he doesn’t look at. “definitely already late” HE’S NOT GOING TO CLASS, THAT’S FOR FUCK’S SURE.

“where’s your class?” eddie asks him. richie doesn’t answer, he takes another drag of the vape.

“you want to try it?” he watches eddie eying the smoke. vapor. whatever.

eddie’s eyes catch on his mouth, probably thinking about his spit on the vape. the diseases. the HORROR. Breaking News: in Downtown Atlanta Richie’s Spit has been Found Killing at Least Three People, More on at Seven.

“would you ask me to if your friends could see?” eddie asks finally. richie takes another hit. eddie smiles. “i’ll see you at group, richie.”

“don’t be fucking dramati-”

“sorry.” eddie is leaving, “us losers ,” he emphasizes the word. how could he know that. how could he FUCKING know that. did richie set something on his phone so that they could see it? COULD EDDIE READ MINDS, IS THAT WHY HE WAS SO FUCKING WEIRD, “like to be on time.”

eddie is gone, and richie is wondering if he can set the inside of a toilet on fire somehow. he sits there in the stairwell the rest of the hour, vaping and thinking about it. he reads the group-chat, the loser group-chat, and resigns to not respond to it. except he can’t do that. so he responds. and stan makes him laugh out loud twice.

twice .

the dry thing. it works for stan.

they make plans after school. richie reads the texts about it under his desk in class. his teacher is watching him and probably feels like they can’t say anything - THAT’S THE CRAZY KID, she’s probably thinking - DON’T WANT HIM LIGHTING ME ON FIRE, OR SOMETHING. richie pokes fun at their plans - they ignore him like some fucking cowards. bill texts him privately. “richie, lol. just come.” RICHIE, LOL. JUST THROW YOURSELF OUT OF A BUILDING. IT’LL BE A BLAST FOR EVERYONE.

he doesn’t belong with them. he wonders what his friends would say if he told them about it. about the whole thing. they’d LAUGH, he has to tell himself, THEY’D LAUGH BECAUSE IT’S FUNNY AND RICHIE DOESN’T BELONG WITH THEM. and some horrible part of himself is muttering that they wouldn’t laugh because he doesn’t belong with them, they’d laugh because he does.

he meets up with his friends where they normally are, in seth’s mom’s old van by the south lot. there are people he doesn’t know there - girl people to be exact. he’s quiet or MAYBE JUST FUCKING QUIET FOR RICHIE HE CAN’T TELL A DIFFERENCE - and he’s not sure. maybe not in the fucking mood for it. maybe he’d just go home. he’s certainly not going to check in on the loser parade.

he thinks about bev. he thinks she could fit in here. she smokes, richie can smell it on her. she’s funny, a hell of a lot prettier than any of the bints - FUCKING BINTS, HE HEARD IT ON A BRITISH TALK SHOW THE OTHER NIGHT, FUCKING GENIUS WORD - in front of him. he could save her. hell. he and bev could be something. maybe. he thinks maybe, MAYBE she wouldn’t say no.

“richie,” tony says, arm wrapped around one girl with a real beak on her face of a nose. Bird Girl Extraordinaire. Give Her Wings and Look at Her Go. “tell meghan,” who the fuck is meghan, “that joke?”

“which fucking joke?” richie shoves his phone in his pocket, leaning up against the van. they’ll hot box it later, probably. they normally do.

“the one about the tophat.” seth fills in from his spot in the driver’s seat.

“oh, okay.” richie blinks. his blood is rushing a little. he doesn’t remember the last time he got told to tell a joke. “so, there’s this guy, and he’s-”

“nooo,” the girl who he can only assume is MEGAN. OR MAYBE MEGHAN. ONLY WHINY GIRLS WITH ANNOYING VOICES SPELL IT MEGHAN. “nooo, you have to do it with the voice!!” she bounces.

he raises his eyebrows, surprised she heard about the cockney accent. the guys hate the cockney accent. so they had talked about him while he was gone, to these girls, apparently.

“yeah, dude. it’s the whole joke.” tony agrees.

seth, richie realizes, is not holding a vape, laughs preemptively. so do jake and roger, following him, both sitting in the back across three seats.

OH, richie thinks.

IT’S NOT THE GODDAMNED JOKE.

the girls laugh too.

YOU’RE THE GODDAMNED JOKE.

this one girl, standing outside of the van with the rest of his friends, asks him seriously, either ignoring or not noticing the laughter, steps up and asks “do you think you can set a locker on fire?”

Chapter Text

stan’s appalled that ben can spend lunch in a bathroom ben doesn’t understand how stan could have stood to sit by himself somehow their differences make them all the more similar ben never really knows what to say and he thinks sometimes stan knows too much of what to say and somehow they meet in the middle. stan listens to him talk about star wars. he doesn’t think stan cares about star wars or anything that isn’t particularly tangible and ben fears he’s too obsessed with the intangible. the fantastical. the slightly out of reach. the frost on the tips of pine trees and the brushes of wind on long hair.

stan comes with him to visit mike it’s a very specific window and his mom is confused when she drops them off but he can’t imagine not having visitors. mike apparently doesn’t know what to do with having visitors. he feels they are like a tower and tv that's just out of signal. fuzzy messages are just barely breaking through the buzz and the scattered marks to try and get the idea cross, the heart is there but they're just not reaching each other and ben's no handyman he doesn't know how to change the antennas or however tvs work. stan seems to notice the distance, in fact he thinks all three of them do and stan's gazing around the room and ben can't help but wonder if he's regretting this regretting coming there with ben if he's looking for an escape route ben doesn't know what to say. after another few minutes of small talk, stan disappeared to across the room, and came back with a board game.

stan somehow has this third sense of what to do that ben can’t fathom. stan has such a firm grasp on what's actually there he shares in group that he's a bit too aware of what's actually there. ben feels like he never sees the inevitable he sees the possible he sees what could be he sees the color on white walls before paint is thrown he sees the flowers that will grow in the patch of dirt he looks at his own fingers and sees beverly marsh’s hand in his.

ben is sure he loved beverly marsh the second he saw her maybe he couldn’t hear the bells but he could smell the bacon on sunday mornings and he could feel the sticky embrace of their leather couch on hot summers when they wouldn’t be able to afford a.c. and he had never been hit so hard with desire in his life.

but there was this moment, and it was small.

she walked in and she looked tired that day. her hair stuck to her face from the slush outside and water was streaking her makeup. She had a collection of band-aids on one of her hands, and she had on brown leggings. when she set her backpack down to the floor, they ripped. she swore loudly, and almost had a moment of complete break-down. over leggings. ben had no idea what to do, could only look at charlotte with pleading, to help her.

bev shook her hair out, face down to the floor, and when she looked back up, she smiled. radiant. breath-taking. 

“i suppose i'm going for a grung-y look after all.”

and that was the moment where ben realized he not only loved beverly marsh, he liked her quite a lot.

everything has been sold to him about love love is this and love is that and liking is for children and one night stands but as far as ben is concerned liking is everything.

liking is good jokes and sharing food even if you kind of want to eat it yourself and group-chats where you don't talk about anything that is necessarily important and liking is a few compliments but more teases and teases where you know they're teases and you realize that everything you've wondered "is that a gentle tease or are they being mean" about is probably the latter because you now know exactly what a joke should sound like when it's not unkind.

liking is just wanting to be around them, hand holding or not. liking is caring when they talk about star wars even if you don’t like star wars because you like them.

liking is supposed to be temporary, but ben has a feeling he could like her, like all of them, for the rest of his life.

ben sometimes feels like everyone else at one point was handed a handbook to human interaction and somehow he got skipped out on. sometimes he’s directed questions and he just stares back until they leave. sometimes he just doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be saying. like when his mother asks him if he’s done his homework for a class whose work he hasn’t touched in weeks. but it could be anything.

and the thing is it just he’s nervous? sometimes all you get is one sentence one time to talk and if you mess it up the person across from you moves on you blew it and they’re now uninterested. the board game is easy the board game there are simple roles to fill but stan and mike are still chatting here and there and ben waits for the moment he'll ruin the entire thing. 

“how are you?” stan asks mike eventually. and when he does it, he looks up at his face with a sincere, interested expression not one that the cashiers give you when you’re in line or their supervisors are staring them down with a look to kill.

“i don’t know,” mike answers simply. “i’m really starting to think they’re not going to let me out of here without drugging the hell out of me.”

“eugh,” stan makes a noise that expresses his distaste better than any sentence in the english language could have, ben figures.

ben thinks about bev. she’s never mentioned drugs straight up she never says anything about prescriptions in fact what she says makes him think that she maybe doesn’t have health insurance that supports seeing a psychiatrist maybe doesn’t have health insurance at all but he thinks about what she says about cigarettes how she feels they flatten the terrain evens the valleys and the mountains, it seems like they tie together . ben has never heard anything except that cigarettes are bad for you awful for you cancer cancer cancer boy has he heard about cancer and somehow he thinks that they just can’t be that awful.

“i don’t know,” ben shrugs and stan and mike look up at him and he realizes he spoke aloud backpedal backpedal backpedal. they are waiting for him to keep talking but no no no “it’s nothing.” this is the moment the aforementioned moment where you fuck it up and they don’t want to talk to you anymore.

“are you taking meds?” mike asks, gentle and open and ben swallows around something that he had no idea lodged itself into his throat.

“i- i’m not,” he clarifies, but something in the back of his mind shoves forward something something disney channel show something speak your mind, “and i know they’re not always good,” beverly’s cough and how she shakes out her dress and sprays it with perfume like it’ll help the smell, “and that it can take a while to find the right ones, but like…”

deep breaths deep breaths deep breaths deep breaths

“i don’t know. it reminds me of like, a scrape on your knee. it’s kind of good to smother it in neosporin and a band-aid. lots of people heal scrapes without them. but if there’s something physically wrong, sometimes it’s good to try to treat it. even if band-aids are itchy and inconvenient.” stan has a small frown on his face “it’s stupid. forget i said anything.”

“no,” mike tells him, “it’s not.”

“i dont know,” stan exhaled, setting down the dice ben forgot he was holding, “i really think the meds i was on made everything worse.”

“it’s like the scrape,” mike continues ben’s metaphor for him and he blinks with surprise, “is a really ambiguous wound that no one can fully see. hell, it could be a bee-sting. or a splinter. or an ant bite on a splinter.” he’s squinting ahead of them, like he’s reasoning this logic with himself.

“sometimes the neosporin isn’t right,” ben adds in, nodding at mike, “but… if something is physically wrong, up-” he gestures vaguely at his brain.

“yeah,” stan nods. “i know what you mean. i just…” he exhales. “i don’t know.”

he doesn’t think stan agrees with him and he doesn’t know what mike’s thinking at all but there’s one thing ben knows sitting there in front of their board game and it’s that they don’t think he’s stupid even if they don’t fully agree and they didn’t stop listening and that he’s heard. they listened.

he’s supposes that’s what it is, having friends.

the word fills him with some sort of golden, giggling, bubbling,. joy

Chapter Text

“one of the most important things to remember,” charlotte is telling them, “is that it’s today.”

richie scoffs impolitely. eddie smacks him, but not with any of the vitriol he used to. it’s almost strange to watch, or bill thinks so.

they all sit differently now. bill, himself, is hunched over and relaxed. stan no longer keeps his hands on his lap at all times. bev often crosses her legs, or sits criss-cross in the chair.

“no matter what you do,” charlotte is looking at him but he’s looking at his friends, “you can never return to yesterday.”

mike is more relaxed, leaned back in his chair, legs spread wide. he seems, instead of distant as he was the week before, almost oddly giddy and amused. like richie, almost. bill doesn’t know what caused the change.

“the past is behind you, and before you can make linear progress,”

ben is more present in general. he speaks more often, and he’s shifted forward, into the circle. into the rest of them.

“you have to accept that what happened, happened.”

richie’s leg still bounces incessantly, but eddie no longer flinches when he gets touched. even by richie. in fact, if anything, eddie seems to be more leaned into richie’s side than anything else. he wonders if anyone has noticed. he catches bev’s eye, and he smiles at her.

“you have to forgive yourself for the past.”

bev makes a face at him and he snickers, and when all the faces turn to look at him with a bit of confusion, except maybe richie, he realizes he hadn’t really listened to a word charlotte said. “sorry, did you ask me something?” he asks her politely.

“no, bill,” she sighs when she smiles. it looks sad, “i didn’t.”

 

it’s richie who invited him over. in retrospect, it’s sort of strange. richie seemingly had a moment where he snapped, and threw himself wholeheartedly into their group. bill… doesn’t know how he feels about it.

he likes richie. he actually does, but somehow everything is always richie richie richie. he has an insatiable need for attention. bill realizes he’s being rather selfish, maybe. maybe he just doesn’t like that the attention is more split. he’s pretty sure if he asked richie, he’d say everything is always bill bill bill.

and then there’s the two of them as friends. different from his other relationships, somehow. he feels like richie already knows an irritating amount of information about him. like he can guess what’s in his head. and yet, bill feels like he can read richie like he’s never really been able to read anyone.

it’s thanksgiving break is richie’s explanation for inviting him to his house at noon. they don’t live far from each other, practically the same suburb. bill dumps his bike in the lawn of the neatly kept house. they already have christmas lights up, classy white ones wrapped around bushes and hedges. the garden beds, despite the weather, do not look sparse. they are filled with green bushes.

richie opens the door, wearing a pair of sweats and socks and a plain green t-shirt. he grins. “hey, duck man.”

“d-duh-d-duck man?”

“y’know. like. bills. ducks have bills.”

“it’s r-r-really n-nuh-not your b-best work.”

richie laughs, and bill’s nervous tension is set at ease. they’re playing a video game bill got over a few months ago, but with richie by his side, making comments and crude gestures, it’s renewed it’s energy. his house is nice, nicer than maybe bill expected, although he doesn't know why. there's a large tv in a neat sitting room that's evidence that richie has been home by himself, a few chip bags on the ground and empty soda cans. his house is clean, otherwise, though. there's tan walls and taupe accents with splashes of mint, and little details like a flower vase on their dining room table and frames filled with pictures of richie. none of them are recent. it reminds bill of his house before...before everything. 

they laugh, they talk about this one girl in richie’s chem class. he wonders if he’s texting her. he checks his phone often, and when he does, his face splits into a grin, and he hastily replies, before tossing it back down.

bill doesn’t know what to do when he does this, so he texts eddie something or other about the show on netflix they’re both watching.

“can you believe we only have three weeks of group left?” richie says, pausing the game without asking and stretching over his head. bill is once again irked by his random ability to read his mind or something, knowing he texted eddie.

bill sets his controller down. he can and he can’t. the winter is approaching quickly, or it’s here, he isn’t sure, it’s always kind of unclear when it starts. he has to do, like, a whole semester’s worth of work in the next three weeks. he can do it. it’ll be fine. he pushes the thought far out of his head. in the spring, he won’t get behind, it’ll be better, right away.

“it’s c-c-crazy,” bill crosses his legs. “you’re n-nuh-not gonna g-g-go back in the sp-puh-pring?”

richie stands, almost laughing “ fuck no.” he walks back into his adjoined kitchen. “do you want something to drink? it was court ordered, remember?”

bill thinks he shouldn’t be sure what richie means, he changes topics so quickly sometimes. but he answers seamlessly “do you h-huh-have c-coke, and y-y-yeah i, m-mean. i know.”

richie checks his phone and replies to a text again. bill checks his phone. eddie has texted back. bill sends him another text.

“where are your p-puh-parents?” bill asks, leaning back on the couch.

“s-s-s-so close, billyboy.” richie taunts, “almost made it through a sentence there.” bill laughs and flicks him off. richie laughs, too. he checks his phone again before grabbing the sodas and walking back over. “they’re at my grandmom’s house for the holiday.”

“wi-without you?”

“i didn’t want to go,” he tosses him the soda. bill taps the top before cracking it open. richie doesn’t, it fizzes up everywhere. he swears and plops it on to the coffee table, running back to the kitchen for a rag.

“they d-d-don’t c-care?”

“nah, they believe me if i say i don’t want to do something.” bill’s parents never want to do anything. it’s almost bill who makes them do things around the holidays. or it was bill. he hasn’t tried this year. maybe he’ll try tomorrow. no, no sunday. sunday would be better. new week, new man. he pauses from cleaning up when his phone buzzes, dropping the rag and pulling out his phone instantaneously. he grins, and answers.

“man, who t-t-th-the f-fuh-fuck are y-you t-t-texting?” bill spits out, curiousity burning at him.

“jealous, billy?” he winks, “you’re the one i invited to my love shack.”

“ha,” bill makes a laughing noise without laughing, "maybe if you could last longer than 12 seconds-" richie hits him with a pillow from the couch. richie shakes his head when he laughs, sitting back on the couch, but he’s still typing, and he doesn’t answer bill’s question.

“is it t-th-that g-girl from your c-class?”

richie raises his eyebrows at him, “the one with the tits? no.” he smirks, “but i’m gonna tell him you said that, he’s gonna be so pissed.”

bill squints, “wh-who is it th-t-t-th-t-t-th- fuck !”

“do you like,” richie kicks back, propping his feet up oddly, “do something about that, man?” he asks rudely, and bill pretends like he doesn’t know what he means.

“about wh-what?”

“dude.”

“i h-h-have ex-c-cer-cises,” bill admits, “i d-duh-do them ev-er-y-y-day,” that’s a lie. he hasn’t done them in months. it’s okay. if he starts doing them on the first of december, he’ll be wait better by the time he sees his family on christmas. it’ll be fine.

“really?”

“y-yeah.”

“okay.” richie’s phone buzzes. his hands flinch towards it, but he watches bill watching him, as if to display he has restraint, he picks up his soda, instead. bill wants to just ask, but he gets the feeling that would piss richie off.

he grabs his own phone, acting like he’s not paying attention to richie. eddie hasn’t responded. he texts bev about the test she said she had the other day. richie immeadiately picks up his phone. bill tries to kick it out of his hand, so he can read the contact name.

“dude.”

“t-t-tell m-me who yo-you’re t-t-texting.”

“your mother.”

“dude.” bill imitates, borrowing his brand new catch phrase.

richie snaps a picture of bill’s annoyed face, and sends it to their group-chat. while he’s grinning, obviously so pleased with himself, bill snaps a picture of him and draws some lewd images on it on snapchat, before sending it to their friends.

richie looks up at him and squints “well played.”

eddie replies to the picture of bill quickly, just with a ‘what a handsome devil,’ not playing into richie’s insults. bill smiles, but wonders why he can respond so quickly to the group and not just text him back.

richie frowns at the response, types something, and then deletes it. he locks his phone and squints up at the ceiling. “do you think eddie’s gay?”

“uh.” bill falters. “probably?”

“hm.”

“d-duh-d-does t-th-that m-matter to you?” bill really hopes he won’t have to explain to richie that there’s nothing wrong with that - and yet somehow knows he doesn’t.

“no.” richie shrugs nonchalantly, “i think he has a crush on you, bro.”

bill squints at richie, and swears he can see the tips of his nose turning green, “s-suh-so?” bill...wouldn’t mind. bill’s not into eddie like that. but it...makes him happy, maybe. that someone thinks he’s...he sounds psychotic in his own mind, and he stops thinking about it.

“you don’t think that’s weird?”

“you d-duh-do?”

he texts back a quick, “only compared to an angel @eddiek.”

“bill.”

“wh-w-what?”

“don’t fucking, like, flirt with him.”

“wh-what!?” bill repeats the word, but with a completely different, laughing and incredulous, inflection. “you fl-fl-flirt with h-h-him co-cuh-constant-tly!”

richie scowls, “no, i don’t.”

“h-hey eh-eds,” bill mocks in a poor impression of richie, “oh, edd-d-die spaghet-tt-ti, ho-how are y-you d-duh-doing, lit-lit-tle spag-g-hetti m-muh-man?” bill’s comforted by the fact he’s pretty sure he’d be as bad at imitating richie’s english accent without the stutter as he is with it.

“that’s different.” richie replies darkly.

bill’s eyebrows rocket up, “is it?” he asks earnestly.

a moment of understanding, indescribable to an outsider, passes to through them.

“shut the fuck up, billy.”

bill unpauses the game without asking.

Chapter Text

eddie kaspbrak has no fucking idea what’s going on anymore!! literally none!

one day it was them in the barrens - he drank the soda bill brought him and goddamn he ran circles around them!! and now, it’s texting and lunch time visits and it’s december and the absolue awfulness! of thanksgiving!! really wasn’t that big of a deal!!

how could it have been, with an ongoing cycle of texts from his friends (!?!?!) narrating their own dinners! eddie ate two slices of turkey and three carrots and four green beans and his stomach started gurgling loudly in protest! he thinks about that!! that weird noise it made, too often. it’s like a small...punishment… for trying to shove too much down - but he doesn’t like to think of it, he tries not to, there are too many new !! other things !! to think about.

the weirdest part of it all is, undoubtedly, inarguably, richie.

richie stalks him down a hall one afternoon, asks him to skip class, still thinks of eddie and his friends as losers, and then, suddenly, is texting him.

he’s ?! texting !! him ??

and he’s showing up to the events they plan in the group text.

hell - richie makes! plans in the groupchat!!

but he’s texting eddie in their own chat. their own chat?? eddie doesn’t know how because he still feels like (??) in some kind of way, he still hates richie, but he and richie never run out of things to talk about.

it started with him asking richie about a reference he made in the group chat - asking him to explain a meme he used eddie had seen it and never understood it and it became quickly evident why - it was sourced straight out reddit. but richie sends another text with a link to a thread that actually is kind of funny and it rolls from there.

their conversation has no discernible start and finish it’s ongoing it’s eddie sitting in his room with his comforter drawn over his head, face peeking out, honest to god giggling , choked and into the sleeves in his hoodie because god knows what will happen if his mom knew he was up that late as they get sillier and sillier and it’s 2 a.m. and richie has sent him another meme of a poorly drawn dolphin and it’s just so funny for some reason and when eddie falls asleep accidentally he sends richie a funny tweet in the morning and it continues.

“eddie,” his mom tells him after four days of this, “come here,” she beckons him and hey eddie ! something yells at him from the back of his mind, this is dread you’re feeling she knows she fucking knows you’re happy!!! god forbid it!!!

“your eyes,” she brushes a thumb on her swollen hand under his eyes, “they’re dark. your liver could be damaged. you’ll need to see dr. keene. i’ll make you an appointment.”

and eddie can’t!! argue!! there’s too much at risk.

“okay, mommy.”

and eddie walks out of second period with a text notification on his phone from the office and he sighs but he’ll go the next day! it’s not a big deal. he didn’t have to go once last week. improvements.

“what’s up, eddie sadghetti?” he nearly jumps. that’s a lie! he does jump!! and he presses a hand to his chest, feeling it take a little more out of him than it should!

“fucking, christ, rich.” he exhales. richie is grinning at him, leaned against a set of lockers. “you scared me.”

“i scare most people.”

“well, with a face like that,” he ducks when richie swipes at him good-naturedly, laughing. “since when do you talk to me in daylight hours?” he looks around at their classmates. surprise surprise. they don’t give a shit!! as it turns out! it’s easier to blend into the scenery in high school than tv shows made it out to be! “aren’t you worried you’ll catch the loser?” he turns to leave. he doesnt !! hope richie will follow him, that’s preposterous!!

“eds,” richie loops an arm around him, “can’t catch what you have. a philosopher said that once.”

eddie laughs, wondering when richie decided he ! was a loser as well! he probably already was one to be honest! he came out to himself as a loser!! eddie doesn’t know why the words come out send his mind into dizzying spiral. that’s a lie! he does know!!

“a philosopher, really?” eddie smirks at him. “which one?”

“me.” eddie laughs. richie jostles his arm, “i think, therefore i am.”

eddie finally ! (not finally he doesn’t he- well. maybe finally.) looks up at his eyes. richie is all eyes-crinkled under the glasses smiling at him and he !!! fucking!!

what are you looking for, eddie? charlotte asks him and eddie doesn’t answer! he asks richie “why are you here, though?”

“you have that free period third,” and richie ?? is keeping track (!?) when eddie says things like that ?? “i thought i might persuade you to ditch with me.”

“ditch and do… what?” eddie doesn’t ! have a free period third !! he has english!! it’s peer review day, he actually sort of needs to go to english but he’s never skipped a class before …

richie shrugs, “i dunno, it’s not too fucking cold out, we could take a walk or something? or, there’s a pretty damn abandoned stairwell someone showed me…” richie is joking with him and smiling at him and eddie does not !! fucking !! know what to do ! “eds. are you okay? ya lookin’” he’s slipped into that weird southern accent “a little green there, buddy boy.” he falters, he steps back and he shoves his hands in his pockets! eddie is going to be late!! “the idea of hanging out with me suck that bad, huh?” and it’s so… self-deprecatingly sour that it wouldn’t even be fun to be mean to richie. not fun !! to be mean to richie ?? what is this ??! what is going on?!

“it’s not that-” and richie is laughing but it’s not a nice laugh he’s laughing to cover it up!!

“eds, i was kidding-” richies fingers loop around his wrist.

“i’ve just never skipped a class-”

“it’s alright, i really don’t care-”

“and my mom is, well, my mom.”

“yeah.” richie’s eyes dart down to his hand on eddie which he ! hasn’t moved !! and then drops it. “i’ll see you at lunch, yeah?’

which - yes, is also a thing they sit outside and eddie pretends he doesn’t want to vomit ! at the smell of his and bev’s cigarettes and he doesn’t even mind the pretending that much.

richie is squinting at him, “where’s your lunch box?” eddie never thought that he’d get caught in this lie he hates it he hates it he doesn’t even know what to say and charlotte saying it’s not as different as you think it is, eddie flashes in the back of his mind.

“i was gonna actually eat at lunch today,” he cracks a fake smile and he’s fucked he’s so fucked, “i have to edit my essay during study hall” - it’s not a Complete lie!!

richie smirks down at him, and eddie’s mind starts running looking for the comeback for the insult inevitably headed his was and richie opens his mouth and says “cute.” his knuckles dig painfully into eddie’s head as he passes by and eddie ! has ! no ! response ! for ! that ! “later, spaghetti man.”

what!! is going on!!!

 

mike is weird in group today !! it’s evident to eddie the second he steps in his eyes are glassy and distant and eddie is distracted and worried but it’s not !! how group works !! to just ask someone ! what’s up !

“even if you feel like,” charlotte is saying. women in general are uninteresting to eddie ? physically or something like that? he isn’t sure. but charlotte is warm? with her deep skin and bright brown eyes and he just trusts her he thinks. he trusts her. “nothing has changed for you, in our time together, know you have made a tremendous first step.” she’s talking like it’s over!! we’re not over!! there’s weeks left, two to be exact! “there is nothing wrong with reaching out. there is power, so much power, in admitting that you need assistance. even if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re looking for.” ?! “stretching your hand out at least sets the path for your feet to follow. i’m glad each of you has made it here. i’d like to hear from everyone about where your feet are going next.”

eddie doesn’t know what ? he’s going to say ! he doesn’t want to have to ask for any more help but he gets winded on steps and he god he almost vomited at the idea of eating half a sandwich at lunch and he doesn’t know which direction his hand is supposed to be stretching in ??

“t-t-things are g-g-going t-to b-be diff-f-erent n-next year for m-me.” bill is smiling, “i’ve g-g-got this,” he taps his head, “p-plan.” and yes, they’ve all, at that point, heard about bill’s plans.

it’s bev’s turn next. she hesitates.

richie was right that morning. it’s unseasonably, weirdly, warm out today. bev is wearing gloves. inside. eddie took off his own gloves as soon as he left the house that morning. “i’m going to-” her eyes are large and ? she’s upset! eddie looks at richie because ?? when did she get upset ?? she was fine at lunch !! “c-can i skip?” she swallows, “i’m sorry.”

“it’s okay, bev,” ben reassures her. he hesitates when he reaches out to her and eddie !! could scream !! touch her, stupid!!!

“ben?” charlotte prompts.

“i might, uh, join track.” he swallows, “keep me grounded, maybe? try to uh talk more. more people, new ones, and. yeah.”

“i’m gonna use a new toothbrush every other day instead of daily,” stan dead-pans. they stare at him. “i’m kidding,” everyone laughs, just a little, like the room is still tight, still thinking about bev! “i liked some of the uh, exercises, i guess, we did with CBT?" charlotte nods, “i think i might continue on that path, maybe.” charlotte is smiling so hard her face !! might split!

“i gotta get outta this damn hospital, first,” mike jokes but it’s distant ? it’s not like stan’s joke. he’s far. eddie doesn’t know how. he’s sitting in the same spot he always sits in next to him. “i don’t know from there. i think they’ll make recommendations.”

oh shit!! this always fucking happens!! he didn’t think of a response before it got to him and now he’s spluttering like an idiot!! he couldn’t eat a sandwich when it counted!!!

“i think,” eddie stares down at his feet and starts to talk, “i think the most important thing i’ve learned here is that, uh, seeking help, looking for ways out, maybe, is the, like, the bravest thing you can do?” he sounds like an idiot , “and it’s really fucking hard to stop blaming yourself,” he curls into himself a little bit, eyes still on the scuffed, muddy sneakers his mom told him to replace and he didn’t and she ordered him new ones and he won’t wear them, “but i’m ...trying? because,” he swallows and goddamnit, he sounds like a moron, “i don’t deserve to feel the way i feel all the time.” when he looks up, his eyes meet bev and only Beverly Marsh. her eyes are large and blue and staring into him- not into his eyes, but into pure him . not the sickly, thin guy sitting with ankles that jut out from his legs but into Eddie Kaspbrak. “nobody does,” he tells her.

she nods and he knows.

her gloved fingers grab at her jeans and she wipes discreetly at her eyes but the tears spill anyway, “it’s not your fault, eddie.” she tells him earnestly, inching forward, and he wishes she would just listen !! to her own words ! she sniffs loudly.

“it isn’t yours either, bev.”

“it, fuck ,” she puts her hand on her face. it is red and flushed and she brushes off more tears. she crosses her legs in her dress - she’s wearing leggings under it, and she sets her elbow on her knee, face still tucked into her hands. “ it’s so hot in here .”

“take your gloves off,” stan tells her.

“it’s fine, i just-”

“b-b-bev,” bill speaks softly, speaking for the rest of them. “it’s o-k-k-kay. t-tuh-take them of-f.”

there’s a garish purple bruise on her right wrist that turns into green under her fingers. none of them are surprised by it.

“it just,” she speaks into her hand, “it feels like-”

ben, thank god! thank somebody!! reaches out and rests a hand on her shoulder: speaking for himself, speaking for everyone, that she doesn’t need to explain herself or the tears because they know it feels like it’s her fault to her. it’s so obvious!! it's written across her face! it's the inflection in her every word! it's in every flinch when they get too close! she breaks off and she leaves her face in her hand.

“beverly, if someone is hurting you-” charlotte begins, reaching out, sitting forward.

“it’s fine,” she covers quickly, a few stray tears running down her wrist, “it’s okay. i’m fine. it’s just a-”

“bev,” and god. eddie didn’t know he’d have to stretch his hand out in bev’s direction but there are times when he just has to be Eddie Kaspbrak and this one is banging ! down his door! he speaks softly, but barely sounds like himself. he sounds like a person who knows what he’s saying ? he’s echoing the words charlotte said to him months ago, the words that he tells himself every day ! the words that follow him around like a coating on his skin ! : “it’s not as different as you think it is.”

“what is?” she asks.

and there it is. he's light headed and he's nauseous and he couldn't eat a sandwich that day and he's breathing and he knows he shouldn't be saying it and charlotte only said it to him to get him to see a psychiatrist and he didn't fucking listen !! but he's never been much of a listener and maybe bev will be: “the difference between killing yourself and letting yourself die. it’s not as different as you think it is.”

the words spill cool water up to their ankles. eddie avoids looking at charlotte because he doesn’t know if that was okay to share or not but he can’t help but think she needs to hear them as badly as eddie did - as eddie does! continually! every day!!

after crying into her hand for a moment, bev nods.

the next person eddie looks at is mike.

mike is still distant, but he’s aware, and he’s staring at eddie, and he nods, too.

“beverly,” charlotte is shifting forward, now, “do you want to talk, now? privately? or do you want to-”

“no, no,” bev scrubs her hand around her face and eddie watches stan watch her do it, snot and tears mixing, and he doesn’t flinch away, he watches her with warm loving eyes, “i want to- can we keep going, and maybe we,” she looks up at charlotte, “can talk after?”

charlotte nods.

eddie looks up at richie, next. they’re all looking at richie. richie is uncomfortable! he’s looking at bill who’s looking at him and he doesn’t know what they’re communicating. but richie is obviously uncomfortable! arms crossed on his chest! buckled in a little bit! richie opens his mouth and it quirks up and for a horrible, garrish moment it seems like he’s going to make a joke.

a sigh comes out.

! ? !

richie puts his arm over the back of eddie’s chair, “i’m going to keep better company,” he tells them, and he looks up at charlotte, for her concluding statement.

and at his appointment the next day, eddie asks dr. greene to help him find a psychiatrist on his health insurance - one that handles anxiety ! and eating disorders . 

Chapter Text

bev marsh leaves group that day, gets into her mother’s car and does not think of charlotte’s stares on her back. she realizes that this is a Disappointment. she realizes she let her down, let them all down. but it’s okay. it’s really just gonna be okay.

she doesn’t know what would await Beverly Marsh in another life the life where she doesn’t wear gloves inside and she doesn’t always have a bottle of advil on her at any given moment but unfortunately today she is bev marsh and this is the life she has.

it sounds awful. they’re not great parents. and she Knows that. and she knows Eddie is Right, or she thinks she does. her skin shouldn’t be something that works against her, something in pain all the time, but they’re Her Parents. where else is she gonna go? what would she do without them? she has one aunt and she doesn’t think that she wants a kid. she wouldn't want a bev marsh. nobody would. bev is rational enough to Know That. and so where does that put her? the foster system?

she heard it’s Awful. and she’s surviving.

she really is.

they’re only Three and a Half years away from college she doesn’t know if the boys Remember that or if they do if they Think about it as constantly as bev does.
they’re staring at her, the boys are, when she enters the cafeteria. and she Doesn’t have a plan for what she’s going to Tell Them. she has no idea. they’re going to be Sad and she already made eddie sad and didn’t want to again.

eddie and richie are sitting at a table near the doors because they keep eating outside, even in December. they’re sitting closely together, richie is leaning into eddie’s space. it seems like he constantly flits back and forth between bev and eddie like he’s not sure what he wants. bev thinks she understands that.
bev would like to know what eddie thinks of it but she realizes that’s Not Talk you just bring up over Lunch.

“hey boys,” she greets jovially, sliding in across from richie. bill isn’t coming today, so maybe they’ll just eat inside. bev doesn’t quite know what to Expect. she thinks they’re all maybe Navigating New Waters here. “how’s it hanging?” Bev asks. she doesn’t really have much of a lunch today. there wasn’t anything in the fridge. there never really is. she grabbed a bag of chips from a convenience store on her way to school.

“how are you?” eddie asks tenderly. richie is practically buzzing in his seat next to eddie with nervous energy because he’s expecting a Talk but there’s nothing to Tell. she thinks it’s annoying eddie because he looks over at him. but then he puts a gentle hand on his arm and richie stops tapping it incessantly on the table. he smiles at him apologetically. eddie Smiles back.

“pretty good,” Bev lies and diverts, “what’s up with…” she falls off with a Significant look towards eddie’s hand on richie’s arm. which she knows isn’t fair. richie looks up at her like he’s thinking about how to Retaliate and Ask her about Yesterday. she raises his eyebrows at him like you push me i’ll push right back and that ends both of those discussions

on thursday night everyone is invited to bill’s and bev marsh is sitting on her bathroom floor, holding her ribcage and sobbing. Beverly Marsh is going to tell someone.

when the sun comes up, bev marsh gets up and goes to school the way she always does.

on Saturday afternoon, ben, who as far as she can consider is the most gentle, well meaning creature alive, grabs her arm when she’s on a rock, because he’s worried she will fall.

Beverly marsh appears and screams at him to get his hands off her. when richie offers her a cigarette, bev marsh almost cries in relief.
he shows up at her house the next morning, and doesn’t complain about hiding under her fire escape for twenty minutes until bev Marsh can leave, and all of her loves richie tozier.

he and bev Marsh hang out for hours. they just wander around town, pointing out how shitty derry can be and laughing at suburbian old people because they’ll never let that happen to them. bev Marsh thinks that if richie tried to kiss her, she might let him. but he doesn’t. and bev Marsh is Not kissing Him. it’s just not that kind of story.

bev’s mom doesn’t know she’s dropping her off at group. she told her that it’s a study project at the local hospital and her mom accepted that. her mom tended to just Accept most things.

bev wouldn’t have been surprised if Charlotte hadn’t moved since their last session. the look she gives her when she enters is exactly the same as the one she had on her face last week.

all the same, bev is dreading the end of these sessions. she doesn’t even want to think about it. she doesn’t know what she’ll do without seeing the guys every week, without hearing the soothing words of Charlotte every week. she doesn’t know if anything has changed but the hour and a half in there is something she can count on. something she knows will be Good. something she knows will be Gentle. she knows they will sit in The Same Order and ben will look at her with those soft eyes even when she yelled at him on saturday and never Really explained herself.

none of them demand an explanation from each other. explanations were freely and willfully given.

“it’s been a rough few weeks, guys” mike tells them quietly after a moment of introspection.

“what’s g-guh-goin’ on, m-mike” bill asks, eyes wide with concern.

mike rubs at his nose and says “uh,”

“you don’t have to tell us, mike,” stan assures him from his spot next to him, “it’s okay.”

“thanks, stan,” he looks up and smiles at him, “but, nah, it’s fine,” he leans down and set his elbows on his knees. he sighs “i’ve just been on a few medications, it’s been kind of a rollercoaster.”

“are they helping?” eddie asks earnestly.

“i don’t know but i think they could” mike replies honestly.

“the right ones,” richie nods at him.

“yeah, man” they stare at each other for a moment.

bev wonders what exactly happened between them during their weeks together in the hospital. she doesn’t think they’ve fully spoken since richie left.

“just d-duh-don’t let it ch-ch-change you,” bill warned him seriously, dark look falling over his eyes.

“yeah, i mean, i don’t think it will.”

“well n-nuh-no-one thinks it w-wuh-will,” bill stares at him “it just hap-p-p-pens when y-you’re nuh-not l-l-luh-looking.” bill insists, like he speaks from direct Experience, “you shouldn-n-n’t let it ch-change you.”

“but isn’t that the point?”

bev could have fallen out of her seat with surprise at who spoke. ben is sitting forward. bev can’t remember a time when anyone challenged something bill said, let alone ben.
“if there’s something wrong,” he looks at mike significantly, “isn’t changing the point?”

“there’s n-nuh-nothing w-wrong wi-with mike,” bill replies sharply.

“not with mike,” ben doesn’t back down “but with the way his brain is working.”

“wha-wh-what?!”

they sound Tense with each other and it sends bev’s stress signals up. she shifts back in her chair, and looks at stan, who is watching the interaction with eyebrows raised.

“it’s hard,” mike interjects, dead in between the two in their circle of 7. “i’m not gonna lie and say every day is a good day. but i almost think that,” he fumbles for the right words to say. bev smiles Encouragingly, or at least she hopes so, she prays so. “the medicine almost isn’t as powerful as telling myself that, like, it’s not okay, and i’m gonna try and make it better. you know?”

“yeah.” eddie pipes up from his corner, “i do know.”

“it’s not so much about, like,” he pauses again, choosing his words as he nods at eddie, “i dunno.” the thought is apparently lost. “i guess i’ve been sad for a really long time,” he looks off, beyond Charlotte, to the wall behind her. “longer than i think i realized. even just acknowledging that kind of sucks… but like,” he bites his lip, “we all get one life to live, right?” he stares around at them, “i don’t want to spend any more of mine being sad. you’ve gotta try, right?” he smiles at bev, then. “you wake up every day, and you try.”

Mike Hanlon tries, and bev marsh goes home in her mother's car, the way she always Does.

Chapter Text

Mike wakes up with a headache that day. It’s new, the headaches. But it’s not everyday. And they’re not too bad. They normally go away after breakfast.

Realistically, he knows he’s been told exactly what’s in the little pharmecutical cocktail he gets handed every day in the little paper cup, but it keeps changing. It’s hard to keep track of exactly what’s what.

Today, for some reason, he just feels… off. Not bad. Not really. Just like his soul has been adjusted so he’s taking place two inches from the left of where his body is. He doesn’t exactly know what that means, but it’s how he feels. There. Just two inches to the left.

“How are you today, Mike?” Sarah asks him. She’s wearing keds today with little purple polkadots. He thinks they look nice. They soften her usually sterile looking appearance.

“I like your shoes,” he compliments. “It’s weird. I feel... okay , but just slightly unsettled. Like I’m slightly off, so the world’s slightly off, and I need to be on my guard.”

“Huh,” she hums, marking off something on her little brown clipboard. “Oh, and thank you,” she smiles. It’s genuine, her eyes crinkle a little bit. “So, this feeling, do you think it’s-” she goes into a brief question, an exploration of emotion. It’s peculiar to Mike, trying to explain how he feels. Feelings just are. Monitoring the ups and downs is something he never thought possible before.

They talk for another twenty minutes about it. They label it tentatively as a spike in anxiety. Mike fiddles with the hem of his shirt. She brushes hair back from her face when there’s nothing in her face. It’s a typical session.

“So, Mike,” she sets down the clipboard, which is not typical. He blinks at it. He looks up to her. She’s shifted forward, instead of cross-legged the way she normally is. “I have something to discuss with you.”

“Uh,” he looks to the side, as if there will be something there other than the grey walls that normally reside there. “Sure, what’s up?” He asks, scratching at his forearm.

“How would you feel about going home?”


Mike Hanlon is beaming by the time group starts. It’s the last one, and so that emotion feels wrong, because he is upset he won’t see everyone every week. But. Home. The word itself floods him with a sort of joy that feels like it doesn’t belong. It starts in his fingers. It tingles through his hands.

“M-M-Mike,” Bill notes as he puts his backpack on the floor. “You luh-l-look hap-p-py.” Bill doesn’t. Bill looks not good at all. Bill’s hair is greasy, more than it’s been in weeks, and he’s wearing sweatpants.

“I am,” Mike replies honestly anyway. Ben is beaming back at him. He matches him joy for joy.

Bev is smiling at him too, sweater worn down at the thumbs so they poke through. “What’s goin’ on, Mike?”

He looks at Charlotte. She's looking at the door. Richie and Stan are walking in. Stan does not flinch away from standing shoulder to shoulder with him, even though Richie’s hands and forearms are covered in marker.

“Should I wait?” He asks Charlotte.

She blinks, looking to him. “Uh, if you’d like!” She smiles encouragingly.

He wants Eddie to be here when he says it. Eddie, and his little speech three weeks back, were what encouraged him to keep going. Even if the medicine wasn’t right right away. Even if it still isn’t quite right now. Because he was right, no one deserves to feel the way he did, even if he couldn’t realize it himself at the time. “I’ll wait,” he smiles at her. She smiles back.

Richie tells a loud story from his day, one that had anyone else shared it, would have seemed kind of boring, but he tells it with such character it has Mike laughing. Mike knows he shouldn’t necessarily trust the high-spike. These things happen, the random spikes of joy and those chemicals in his brain that makes him feel like he could punch through a wall. But it’s so good, he doesn’t even care if he’ll come crashing down from the cloud after group. He deserves to feel this joy.

Ten minutes pass, and Richie is squinting at the door in those ridiculous glasses of his.

“...we might have to get started, folks.” Charlotte winces, watching the door herself.

“No!” Stan protests loudly. He blinks. He’s surprised by his own volume, and sits back in his chair. “I’m sorry. I mean,” Stan looks around. Mike knows the disorder bothers him, the empty chair is making him twitchy. Mike smiles at him. He hopes it’s comforting.

“He was at lunch today,” Bev says with a significant nod to Richie. He nods his agreement.

“L-l-let m-me,” Bill pulls out his phone. Almost racing, Richie whips out his.

“Here,” Richie nearly interrupts, but Bill isn’t saying anything. “I can call him.”

“Alr-ready on it,” Bill presses his ear to his phone. Richie momentarily scowls, but he puts his phone back in his pocket.

“N-no answer.”

It seems like the group as a collective heaves a sigh. Charlotte checks the clock. “We really should start…” she bites her lip. She ducks another look at the door.

Stan presses his palms on to his pants and stares at the floor. It seems like a purposeful stare. It's like he’s thinking. Or calculating.

“It’s okay, Stanny,” Richie adds obnoxiously, leaning over the empty chair and Mike as best he could. “I’ll fill him in after I leave his mother’s room tonight,” he leers. Bev groans and puts her face into her hands.

Stan swallows. He looks up to Richie. “You know you won’t,” he replies, “everyone knows you pass the fuck out after lasting all of 30 seconds.”

For a moment, Mike is so stunned he doesn’t even quite register the words. The first person to laugh is Ben. It’s a sharp, high pitched, almost bark. He slaps a hand over his mouth. Mike looks to Ben, and then Bill, who has seemingly done the same. And they collapse into laughter together. Everyone follows. The laughter splatters yellow, bright and vibrant, all over the grey walls.

The group session starts, only just slightly off. Two inches to the left, maybe.

They do a breathing exercise and a mindfulness workshop. With a stout fifteen minutes left, the door opens. Eddie Kaspbrak is standing there. His feet are covered in snow. His nose is bright red. They clap. Mike doesn't know who starts it. He quickly joins. His face goes from sour to confused to joyful as he approaches them. By the time he’s putting his bag down, he’s down-right laughing.

“Is everything okay, Eddie?” Charlotte asks him.

“Yeah,” he laughs, “my mom is such a goddamned bitch. Oops,” he turns pink at his swear. He cringes in Charlotte’s direction. “Sorry, language.”

And then she, too, is laughing. “It’s okay. Do you need to share about it?”

He’s not sitting yet. He’s standing there shifting. Mike looks down at his feet. His shoes, canvas Vans style things, are soaked. Sopping wet. Mike winces. It’s December, it’s too cold for that.

“Can I get back to you on that?” She nods at him. He rubs at his nose and smiles gratefully. “I’m sorry, it’s just- can I-” he gestures to his feet.

She nods again, laughing with a little shrug, “if you must.”

He plants a hand on Richie’s shoulder. He blinks at him, surprised. He tugs off one shoe, then the other, then peels away saturated socks.

When he sits, he pulls his hoodie, far too large for his small frame, over his knees, and tucks his feet under. “Thanks,” he smiles, looking like a cute little egg.

Richie is beaming at him. He looks like a mad-man. Eddie wrinkles his nose and asks him “what?”

Richie shakes his head. “Nothing.” He laughs to himself, and turns back, like he regretted speaking so quickly. “Want me to warm your feet up?” He reaches his ink covered hands towards Eddie’s egg like physique.

“What?” To Mike’s astonishment, upon realizing exactly what Richie’s proposing, Eddie lets out a shocked little laugh. “No!” He makes a squealing noise. He's unable to really escape from Richie’s hands worming their way under his hoodie. “Don’t you fucking touch me, you fucking weirdo.”

“Fine,” Richie shrugs, smile still bizarrely stretched out on his face. He pinches his cheek. “So cute, Eds-”

“I am not- don’t fucking call me-”

“Cute, cute, cute !”

“Are we about to witness a proposal, Rich?” Bev cuts into the madness. Her smile is teasing. Her hair is in her eyes.

Richie drops his hold on Eddie, “maybe, my sweet girl,” he winks at her, grinning himself, “I gotta be last, though. It’s too tough an act to follow, and I still wanna hear what got Mikey-boy’s rocks off earlier.”

Stan rolls his eyes. Ben laughs. Mike just grins, and looks to Charlotte for permission to talk. She nods her assent. It seems like her plans were blown off anyway.

Mike talks long enough even he isn’t quite keeping track of what he’s saying. He tells them about the variations of medication, and the improvements Sarah has noticed, and going home. He’d be home in time for Christmas, if the discharge goes as it should. It rolls off his tongue, and it's met by the smiles of his friends. He realizes he’s rambling, and withdraws, just a tad.

“And it was… you guys,” he tells them. His nose gets hit with something, maybe a little dust. It twitches and he sneezes. Stan recoils a little bit. Bev wishes him bless you. “I don’t want to sound too cheesey, guys. But like. Ben, buddy,” Ben’s face perks up, like he’s surprised to have been mentioned, “you really helped me. And like, what Eddie said a few weeks ago?” Eddie also looks surprised.

Eddie releases himself from his egg shape so he can look at Mike. His face tilts up, open and earnest. Mike smiles, and somehow more words he didn’t know he had before slip out. “Eddie, you don’t even know how powerful you are,” he tells him. “What you said… it really got to me. I honestly don’t even…” he trailed off. “I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t. But I’ll try: thank you, Eddie. For just… being you.”

And before Mike could blink, somehow he ends up with a lap full of Eddie Kaspbrak.

“Uh.” Mike blinks. Eddie is curled in, one foot on the floor, most of his weight in Mike’s lap. He has his arms wrapped around Mike’s neck and his face shoved into his shoulder. Mike did not expect this outcome. He pats him on the shoulder.

“Thank you,” Eddie says so quietly that Mike is pretty sure only Mike can hear it. “I really needed to hear that today.” Mike looks over, and catches Bill’s eyes. He’s equally curious, and amused, and somehow, also looks like he could use a hug of this nature. But no part of Bill’s look is judgmental. Mike tells himself ‘fuck it ,’ and hugs Eddie back with an equal amount of aggression. He shuts his eyes tight.

He feels gradual weight add in, and when he opens his eyes, all he sees is the bright orange of Bev’s hair and he laughs. He has no time to do anything else, engulfed in warm and the moment and them. 

And then Eddie’s laughing, and then they all are.

The moment comes and goes so quickly, he blinks. He thinks maybe it's just like that. It comes and it smacks you in the face, like a sunrise when you're driving over a hill. It burns and surprises you, and then it is gone so fast. But it leaves him warm, awake. Alive, he guesses. Mike Hanlon loves the sun.

“Sorry, guys,” Eddie wipes at his nose and his eyes, all in one shot, “it’s just been one of those days where I want to like, run away.”

Bill snorts, sitting back in his own seat, “I know that f-f-f-feeling.”

“Ugh,” Bev sits in her seat, wiping at her eyes, too, “same.”

And Bill has a gleam in his eyes, like the cogs are turning, like he has an Idea. But Charlotte’s smile is open and warm, and she says “believe it or not, our time is almost up. Can I finish us out,” Mike hears a loud sniff, and he doesn’t know who it is, “with some remarks?”

Mike bares down in his seat, leaning into Charlotte, feeling gratitude flood his chest.

“These 15 weeks,” she speaks, hands on her knees covered with her patterned dress, “obviously cannot fix everything. Hopefully, you know that that’s not what we were trying to do, here. What we really wanted to do is build a foundation for you. You can’t build a house on sand. You need a solid base. I want you to use the things we learned together as tools to help you navigate the future. It won’t always be easy, and some days will be better than others. But you have tools. You have resources. And you have allies,” she looks around at them, “you did at the beginning, and you do now. You are never alone, whether you know that or not. No one is alone.”

Chapter Text

if RICHIE TOZIER was gonna be a MOTHERFUCKING LOSER he was gonna be the best GODDAMNED LOSER that anyone had ever FUCKING heard of.

so you know what: fuck it.

he’s wearing his dad’s shirt he found in a box labeled wentworth - 1982. it is patterned and ridiculous and this bitch in his science class’ lip LITERALLY curls up at the sight of it as if it repulses her - and it’s excellent because she keeps looking over at him like he might have changed in the last few moments.

he’s wearing it rolled up to his elbow over his black long sleeve shirt. his hands are bleeding a little bit today because bill was in such a shitty mood during their last session richie asked if he wanted to do something. bill did. they went down to this old junk yard and started sorting through trash and laughing about what purposes it served in it’s FORMER LIFE, so to speak. he knicked his hands on a jagged piece of metal and swore and bill laughed his stuttering ass off - and smiled genuinely for the first time ALL FUCKING DAY. they lit a fire - it was fucking awesome.

“it’s just what eddie was talking about,” bill would say if he could get through a sentence with out st-st-stuttering to the point of almost incomprehension. “i just want to run away. i don’t know.”

but he DID know and RICHIE KNEW TOO.

EVERY TEENAGER HAS THAT FANTASY THAT RUN FAR, DON’T LOOK BACK FANTASY. LET ALONE A GROUP OF TEENAGERS AS FUCKED UP AS THEY ARE - AS FUCKED UP AS BILL IS.

as fucked up as little eddie spaghetti is , as he almost struggles in between putting his inhaler in his Pocket and in his Locker. he picks it up and puts it back. and then puts it in his locker. and then puts it back.

richie, FOR EDDIE’S BENEFIT, HE’D SWEAR ON SOMETHING GOOD - CIGARETTES OR MIKE HANLON OR SOMETHING - puts a hand on his locker, leaning over eddie’s shoulder.

it shuts with a slam, and eddie jumps. of course he does.

he turns and his eyes land on the shirt - OF COURSE - before he looks at richie.

“oh my god,” he presses his mouth together to keep in the laugh. “that thing is horrendous.”

his fingers reach out to touch it and then he seems to second guess himself and returns and richie leans a little bit more into his space.

and… god. eddie is such a fucking nerd, isn’t he?

his hair always shines a little bit from the product he probably puts into it because richie can literally imagine it - eddie with his little comb smeared in gel every morning and richie wonders if he put his hands in it would it Crunch? his lips are always chapped - pink yet chapped. and it’s not quite like stan’s hands and eddie doesn’t carry around all of that purrell anymore but his fingers still look dry and ashy as his elbows which are ALWAYS visible in those stupid polos he wears tucked into the khaki shorts his mom PROBABLY bought him in middle school. his socks are so white it’s ridiculous and HE NEEDS TO STOP WEARING TUBE SOCKS, FOR FUCK’S SAKES it’s almost INFURIATINGLY endearing looking at them tucked into his brown loafer things whatever they are. they Probably came from Payless.

“yeah?” he grins at eddie, who nods, leaning back against the locker, choosing to cross his arms instead of touch richie. “your mother seemed to like it.”

he drops his backpack by their feet. he’d rather drop kick it out of a plane, but it would do for now. christmas break never sounded so sweet. eddie had a make-up test that day and he didn’t see him at lunch. richie was trying to figure out how to word exactly that he’d like to see eddie - see all of them, but particularly eddie - during the break that starts as soon as they set their feet on that sweet, sweet grass outside.

“how was your test?” he asks. lunch was quiet. he and bev smoked outside and he told her about his essay but she was distracted by the group-chat going nuts. she tried narrating it to him but he was distracted - thinking about eddie and this test of his and this moment right here that he wasn’t still particularly succeeding at.

“annoying,” eddie rolled his eyes.

“yeah?”

“yeah. i’ll tell you about it later.”

“will you?” richie’s eyebrows raise like they don’t text on a loop that runs around his own head constantly. eddie rolls his eyes, unwilling to engage in the little game or trap OR IT’S NOT A TRAP BUT - whatever richie is trying to lure him into. “i was thinking it was time for me to meet your mom. our sexts are really something, but i really wanted that deeper,” his eyes flick to eddie’s lips, there’s a little piece of deadskin he could brush off with his thumb it’s so loose. “intimate connection.” he looks back to eddie - or his eyes or whatever.

“do you?” eddie asks flatly. “i don’t think she associates herself wit-”

something THUMPS his shoulder, pushing him a little further into eddie.

“just ask him to the prom already, jesus fuck, rich,” tony says behind richie’s shoulder. roger laughs - richie can hear the boy has the lungs, and face, of a donkey. richie turns and they’re already walking past, them and his girlfriend. his friends? exfriends? he doesn’t know what they are now. he leaves his hand planted by the locker, comeback spinning in his head about asking tony’s mother but the moment has passed anyway. it was a weird moment to start with. richie didn’t know what to do with it.

“i’m sorry,” eddie calls out after him. tony doesn’t turn his head. eddie’s voice gets louder. “what was that?” he calls loudly down the hall after them. now that they weren’t constantly arguing richie had forgotten just how combative eddie could be.

“the prom,” tony turns as he says it in a condescending voice, “maybe you haven’t heard of it? big dance party thing, punch and snacks, you shell out a bunch of money for it. people invite the person they want to hump,” he squeezes the hand of the brunette standing there - meghan, richie recalls. tony laughs, and the people around them do, too.

“shame,” eddie shifts his weight forward a little bit, on to his toes, “that you have to pay a girl in taffeta and perfect pictures to get her to sleep with you.” he glances at their hands. richie laughs, so do other people. “sorry about that.” he bit back in a way that if everything were different, if they were friends and the entire world was made of gumdrops and birds showed up to dress you in the morning and not shit on your head and tell you in bird squawking to go fuck yourself, that might have seemed teasing. it was all just nasty between them, obviously bitter energy and richie DIDN’T KNOW what was GOING ON.

“don’t worry about it,” tony shook his other hand at eddie dismissively- AND GEE IF THERE WAS ANYWAY TO RILE HIM UP THAT MIGHT BE IT- “i’ll look forward to voting you prom queen,” he gestured at eddie, “and queen.” he jerks his thumb at richie and then looks him in the eye and he laughs. and it’s not a comment out of the usual for tony, richie listened to them every day when they were talking. at his expense, at other’s expense. hell, richie would fire them back at them. but he hadn’t spoken to them in weeks and besides that eddie was CLEARLY already upset it was WEIRD the whole thing was weird and nothing felt like a joke. and tony was still looking at them like they left a nasty taste in his mouth.

and of course, eddie’s amazing lung capacity and screeching voice gathered them the attention of their classmates. richie almost laughed as they turned and watched, turned and stared at the freakshow happening in the hall. richie did laugh a little bit, enjoying in the smallest way as their attention turned to them. the shirt. it probably helped.

“we’re SOPHOMORES,” eddie spits back furiously after floundering for a moment and richie winces, “what fucking PROM are you even TALKING ABOUT, DICKBAG?” it’s not the best and eddie is yelling and richie wants to laugh again because he’s sure if he played back the entire situation on a dvr it would be funny.

“relax, kaspbrak,” tony rolls his eyes. meghan - and her monstrosity on leg ugg boots- is tugging on his hand, looking uncomfortable. “it was a fucking joke.”

“come on, tony,” she mutters, “sorry,” she tries with a grimacing smile, tony looks at her. “you’re such an asshole.” she laughs nervously, flicking FRIED straightened hair over her shoulder. tony - and meghan and roger on her other side and eddie himself look ready to let the whole thing drop. kids look away from them, the hallway begins to resume it’s normalcy. eddie is still furious looking, mouth in a hard line. because when the entire day was compromised of ‘fucking jokes’ it get harder and harder to not feel like the giant goddamned joke.

“yeah, thanks, bud.” richie says, loudly. loudly enough so tony hears him. so most everyone in the hallways hears him. eddie definitely hears him, looking up at him with surprise in those big ol’ eyes. richie looks down at him.

eddie kaspbrak’s tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip and richie tozier thinks about kissing him. not for the first time, if he’s honest with himself. richie’s eyes dart to the side, and he notes - SMIRKS to himself a little bit. sort of SELF-SATISFIED OR SOMETHING, WHO KNOWS - that eyes are still lingering on them.

richie looks back at tony, shuffles in a little more into eddie, “but we’re gonna skip the heterosexual hop, anyway.” eddie inhales sharply.

hey. fuck it. right?

HERE’S TO LOSERS.

he grabs eddie’s chin, tilting his head so he doesn’t fucking miss. eddie’s eyebrows are crumpling - probably because when richie grabs his face he pinches it, never gently maneuvers it or some shit, and before eddie can say anything, richie leans down and catches it with his mouth. his eyes are clamped shut. he moves his hand from eddie’s face to the locker, pinning him in as eddie SQUEAKS, and richie can HEAR IT the hall is so quiet AT DISMISSAL TIME FRIDAY BEFORE BREAK- and richie doesn’t necessarily KNOW what he’s doing but that squeak opens eddie’s mouth a bit and richie persists - mouth pressing eddie’s open. he hears a little clunk and he thinks that’s eddie’s head colliding with the locker behind him.

eddie smacks a weak hand on his chest, a barely there BABY tap, and richie swipes his tongue across their bottom lips AND FUCK HE WISHES HE KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING, and then eddie’s fingers curl, grabbing his shirt the way he twitched to earlier and stopped himself. eddie’s tongue brushes against his and richie is PRAYING eddie’s eyes are shut.

and then, ABRUPTLY, eddie fucking SHOVES him, all of his small-bodied might fucking a tidal wave over him. he stumbles back, blinking.

eddie’s brow is furrowed, bright pink and RICHIE REALIZES VERY QUICKLY IT’S PINK WITH FURY. his mouth opens and closes LIKE ONE OF THOSE FISH THAT YOU FEED PELLETS TO and richie can practically hear what eddie would have screamed if they weren’t in the middle of a busy hallway, if he had done this at group if he had done it the first time he thought about it “ you are such a FUCK ” his face says while he doesn’t say anything he turns haplessly around looking for something to hold on to and, finding nothing, turns and BOOKS IT down the hall and richie looks around and realizes everyone’s eyes are on his back.

richie wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. eddie really fucking ran . he might have a future as a track star. he looked back at the students staring, because eddie is far now, and they’re looking back at him. richie stares around. at the peers, at his FORMER FRIENDS OR WHATEVER THE FUCK THEY WERE - with their little slack-jaws and wide-eyes.

he raises a middle finger at him. at all of them.

“later, breeders.” he picks up his bag. he walks slowly way more slowly than he wants to. his hands are shaking from adrenaline. he’s bouncing on his feet as he walks down the hall. he just barely hears or he thinks he hears tony say "smooth, rich." they’re STILL LOOKING HE FUCKING KNOWS THEY ARE. AND nearly the SECOND he steps outside- fuck is it cold, and eddie ran out without his coat because richie closed his locker, his phone rings.

“r-r-rich,” bill answers the second he slides his phone open.

“why the fuck are you call-”

“w-w-we’re g-guh-gon-n-na d-do it, g-g-get your sh-sh-sh-sh-sh”

“billy boy, slow down, jesus fuck-”

“rich,” bev’s spritely voice appears. richie is taken aback. “we’re gonna do it, road trip.”

richie is BLINKING that’s all he can do.

“get your shit. right now. we need to. all seven of us.”

...what.

“we’ll be back in time for christmas.”

... what .

“stanny will NEVER-”

“i’m already here, rich.” stan replies flatly.

“stan?” stan’s tone is undeniably him or the BEST impression richie has EVER heard. “but how are you guys gonna convi-”

“we’re already here,” and if richie’s surprise could take a physical form, it would have just appeared in a leather duster and smacked him right across the face, because mike hanlon’s warm voice was filling his ear drum. “we’re sitting in ben’s van.”

“MIKE?!”

“roger.”

“so you got home- and you let them talk you into this?”

“it was my idea.”

RICHIE HAS NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT TO RESPOND TO ANY OF THIS. HE REALLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN CHECKING THE GROUPCHAT, HE GUESSES.

“ben drives a VAN?”

“he just passed his test. his mom got a new car and gave him the van. we’re gonna break like six laws.” bev replied. “we’re just missing you and eddie. is he there?”

richie turns, and stares, dumbfounded, into the school.

“uh. you JUST missed him.”

“well can you tell him?” bev asks, sounding breathless and eager. “this all started with him. he’ll do it. i know he will.”

“uh.”

HOOOLY SHIT IT SETS IN. the ground grumble under his feet, ripping apart the sidewalk and the burning flames of hell nip at his ankles and toes. and he can hear the little demons laughing even from there as he stands on the technically solid, metaphorically shattered, ground.

RICHIE FUCKED UP.

RICHIE REALLY FUCKED UP.   

holy shit richie is kind of gay. well.

okay.

HOLY SHIT RICHIE KISSED EDDIE IN A HALLWAY FILLED WITH THEIR PEERS.

“richie,” mike’s voice comes through, worried and somehow reading into his silence perfectly, WEIRD LITTLE ORACLE OF TRUTH THAT HE WAS, “did you do something?”

“well.” IS KISSING EDDIE KASPBRAK OUT OF NOWHERE SOMETHING? “i don’t think you’re gonna convince eddie to get in a car with me for a week.” richie is furious with himself. he wishes the ground would crack open for real and swallow him up. WHY DID HE ALWAYS - EVERYTIME IT SEEMED LIKE SOMETHING WAS EVEN GOING MODERATELY WELL- and he likes eddie, too. and his dumb inhaler and wheezey voice and oh FUCK. richie fucked this up. he'll never talk to him again. he shouldn't.

“oh for crying out loud-” bev says as ben asks quietly

“what did you do?”

bill interrupts them all with a very bill-like voice. “i’ll g-guh-get h-him. it’s got-t-ta be all of us. it’s h-how it’s su-supposed to b-b-be.” and richie doesn’t know exactly what bill means by that, but he knows how bill’s feeling, even from the distance, just hearing his voice on the phone he gets a similar build up in his chest like yeah, it is. and he knows bill knows he feels that because bill says “b-b-be there at fuh-five wi-with eddie.” richie highly doubts they’ve told them their parents or most of them haven’t maybe ben has, maybe stan. bill’s might not have cared at all. richie’s will argue… he’ll tell them he’s going camping with stan, and stan will come in and flash some rope at them and it’ll be fine. and richie has no idea where they’re going or why they’re going there but holy shit he’s fucked everything else in his life ever up so why the fuck not fuck up one more thing?

“okay,” he says, believing bill and the rest will show up with eddie and they’ll get in the car and they’ll go. because if he went anywhere near eddie himself at the moment he knows he’d get punched in the eye but he’s RICHIE TOZIER, and bill ISN’T. he’s him. not a blatant fuck-up. they’ll be there at five and eddie won’t kill him at first sight. and it’s probably better that it all happens this way- maybe it’s supposed to happen this way. richie couldn’t fix this if he tried. he’s richie tozier - not the posh guy with the slick london accent he doodles the hat of in lab (he could fix it with a tilt of his hat) and not the obscure alligator hunter and not the alien with abstract understandings of emotions and not the southern belle - he’s not any of those people, really, no matter how hard he tries, how slickly he’s able to convince himself sometimes.

but above all else, RICHIE TOZIER is no bill denbrough.

Chapter Text

they’re four hours in. bill denbrough hates all of them. he really does. they’re arguing about seats. they’ve been driving for four hours. this means it’s basically an ongoing argument. it just doesn’t have a beginning or an ending. it just continues. bill doesn’t really listen to it. bill is sort of drifting in this little fantasy where they get clipped by another car. it drills into the back right corner of the car. the only one hurt is bill. they rush him to the hospital. full tears. eddie is sobbing into richie’s shoulder instead of blatantly ignoring him. richie would be attuned to his emotions instead of his nearly depressingly aggressive behavior that everything was normal. that everything is okay. neither of them have disclosed what happened, but bill can tell eddie is nearly bursting with it. he'll tell whoever he sees first not in the presence of richie. in the waiting room bev can’t sit still. bill pulls through at the last second. or maybe he doesn’t.

he isn’t sure yet.

“bill.”

“what?”

richie’s staring at him, but not with the contempt he’s expecting. his eyes are wide and concerned. “are you okay, man?” he’s wearing his flannel with the sleeves pushed up and a shirt of a band bill doesn’t know.

bill is. or he will be. or he’s supposed to be. because this is what was supposed to fix it. or make him feel alive. or something. he doesn’t-

“bill!” richie tries again.

“s-sorry,” he apologizes quickly. the car is speeding down the highway. it has more cars than bill was expecting for past 10. or he thinks that's what time it is. his pants, as comfortable as sweatpants are, seem to be irritating the skin of his thighs. or it might be he's been sitting too long. his head is dully aching. it's radiating from where it was leaning against the window. 

“did you hear what i asked?” eddie is flipped around in the passenger seat. he's peering over at him curiously.

“think they can hear you on mars, eds.” richie drops a wink at him. his smile is broad on his face.

“don’t fucking call me that. or talk to me.” eddie shuts down coldly. it has none of the well-intentioned, playful fluster that bill’s become accommodated to. he looks at richie. richie winces. but the smile that becomes closer and closer to a grimace everyone moment persists. “did you hear me, bill?” eddie still looks wide-eyed and nervous, the way he was when they ushered him out of his house. he was more quickly convinced than richie told bill he would be. although bill had had different suspicions about that. they barely had to disclose the plan before eddie drew his phone out of his pocket, stepped on it, and threw it into the sewer drain.

“she’d track it,” he explained to their aghast stares at his bluntness. “it’s a flip phone anway. it barely goes on twitter.”

bev left her phone on her dresser after carefully deleting their group-messaging app, then the account itself. she turned around to bill, ben, and mike with a broad smile and a sense of adventure “alright. where to?”

stan, richie, bill and ben told easy lies to their parents about a camping trip. they excluded beverly, naturally. and in ben and stan's case, they included parents. richie swears he can do a good enough dad impression to make a phone call. - and mike didn’t have to lie at all. or bill thinks he doesn’t. he showed up at bill’s house in two in the afternoon, and for the first time, bill sees him in jeans. bill didn’t ask. bill isn’t sure he wants to know.

“i’m s-s-sorry, what?”

“please,” eddie loops his arms around the headrest. he leans his cheek on it. “tell these idiots that we can’t sleep outside. we’ll get sick.”

“we won’t get sick,” stan rolls his eyes. “i’ve done it before. it’s fine.”

“it’s december in maine.”

"and?"

“it’s 30 degrees outside.”

“that’s why you wear a coat.”

“no one sleeps in a coat, stanley.”

bill didn’t do this so they could argue. he didn’t want more of a headache. this isn’t what it was supposed to be. he looks over to mike. he's passed out asleep next to richie. he’s had a longer day than any of them. bev is nervously chewing on her fingernail as stan and eddie bicker. he doesn’t think she likes arguing.

“actually,” ben corrects, a tad too late. “we’re in vermont.”

“vermont?” eddie rears on him, sitting properly in his seat. “why?”

“it was richie’s idea.”

“where the fuck are we going?”

“ask him.”

“to do that, bennyboy,” richie jokes crudely, “he’d have to be willing to talk to me. it’s a no go.”

“i’ll talk to you,” eddie turns back and glares at him, “go fuck yourself.” richie laughs. it’s hoarse and awkward but it doesn’t stir mike. eddie continues to glare. the hood of his dark green hoodie is pulled over his head.

it doesn’t matter where they go, truthfully. it only matters where they end - which will be acadia. none of this early bickering matters at all. they’ll move past it by the time they get there. they’ll be carefree. and alive. and that’s all that matters. it just needs to not be night. its so dark in the car he can barely see them. it needs to be day time. and bright. and everyone needs to sleep. that’s all it needs to be, and it’ll get better. it’ll be fine, then.

bill can’t be fussed with the details.

they’ve only got $300, one credit card, three duffle bags, a cooler of snacks, five backpacks, a tent, seven pillows, two quilts, and five sleeping bags between them, and it’s 30 degrees out and rearing on a holiday. ben says $100 of that is gas. it’s all details.

bev sits forward. she almost jolts up. her eyes are bright and excited. “ben,” she says. she sits forward. she leans over his chair, “exit fifty two. make a left.” she’s got richie’s phone in her hand. it's playing the soft rock behind them, that bill just notices actively.

“There's a room where the light won't find you
Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down...”

ben doesn’t ask what the plan is or where they’re going, he just nods. he yawns. It’s nearly 11 p.m.

“the seats go down in the back, right?”

he nods again.

“When they do, I'll be right behind you
So glad we've almost made it…”

“we’ll go to this campground I found for the night,” she announces to the car. “it’s fifteen minutes away. ten minute fee for a lot. we’ll park, put the seats down and everything in the passenger seat. eddie and i will crack a window and sleep in the car. you guys can set up the tent.

“it’s a van tent, anyway.” stan says like any of them know what that means.

“even better.” beverly pretends she does and smiles at them. “we’ll wake up, go to walmart and then we’ll go to richie’s museum. okay?”

and seemingly, the car turns to look at him. bill nods. the rest of them agree.

“So sad they had to fade it.
Everybody wants to rule the world.”

and bill thinks, as they continue their trek down the hallway, plunging into the unknown, following bev’s path, that in every way that matters, he’s no beverly marsh.

Chapter Text

Beverly Marsh wakes up in a van in Vermont, wrapped in a quilt and wearing two pairs of sweatpants, and the First thing she sees is Eddie Kaspbrak, still asleep with a grumpy little frown, etches of his complaints about richie still All Over his face, and she laughs.

that’s all she Can Do. She laughs.

she is Not laughing at eddie, or his Very Good reason for his anger with richie. or that she listened about it for two hours the night before. she isn’t laughing at his two hats. or the van. or that her toes are bengingly numb. she just. laughs.

because the Sun is rising over her shoulder and her hair is already a Disaster and she feels the laugh in her chest in the best possible way.

eddie jolts awake, looking panicked, “wassit?!” he holds out his pillow defensively.

the laugh is painful, then. Literally. Painful. It stabs at her stomach, folds it in cramps and the corners of her eyes are twitching. it numbs the radiating pain of the bruise on her elbow, the tooth she’s praying isn’t a root canal, she’s never been to a dentist. the burn in her stomach is pleasant and it swallows her & she doesn’t need to be found.

eddie’s worry melts on his face, and he’s chuckling, looking confused. “alright, bev?” he asks.

“what a day,” she rubs at her running nose, “Eddie Kaspbrak.”

he grins, and she thinks he Understands “what a life, Beverly Marsh.” he agrees.

the bubbles in her chest, tingling up to her shoulder, never really fade. the museum is the most bizarre thing she has ever seen. it’s enormous puppets of various politicians made out of paper machete and they’re terrifying. it's wonderful. 

richie is impossibly Enamoured and bill is Fascinated and that’s Enough for all of them, really.

they wander down the stalls of the museum. richie assigns various Voices to each puppet. stan replies in Monotonous tones and acts out scenes with them. bev’s favorite is the ongoing divorce between stan and a puppet that looks like harry styles if he got Smooshed by a trailer. they’re are kids involved. their names are Gertrude Angela and Dish-soap. mike plays the puppet’s new man. eddie pretends not to laugh.

ben wants to know what happened. it’s written on his face. bev could tell him, in long rambling detail “i don’t care if he wants to make a spectacle of himself but i never asked to be dragged into his little circus, and besides that he’s so fucking egotistical, thinking i’d just want to kiss him without even asking, he didn’t even ask if i’m gay, bev, and i don’t even know what kind of tantrum my mother would throw if she found out- ” but enough people have been let in on eddie’s Business without his permission, so she lets it Be. she Feels bad. he’s clearly tumbling with it in his brain all day, fumbling around with the Concept. also. his mother is going to chain him to a bedroom wall when they return to derry.

but Beverly Can’t Think about going back to derry. not right now.

not when they finish lunch and discover an old playground by a deserted for the holidays elementary school.

it’s wooden.

it’s built to look like a Castle.

eddie climbs it first, scrappy Determination taking him from the Ground to sitting on the curved top of the Roof. Beverly Marsh claps from the ground for only a moment, before she scrapples up the side to him, splinters in her fingertips, Smile burning her cheek. at the top they high five, and nearly fall off. eddie looks Terrified, like that he's up 20 feet high just hits him. 

in the moments after, he looks Exhilarated. he taunts stan and ben from the top. stan rolls his eyes. ben shrugs. richie waits for eddie to address him next, but it doesn't come. bev wonders if he Knows how to Apologize. it's not second nature. it's not something people Know how to Do. in fact, she thinks EVERYTHING in human nature is against it. it's unnatural and offensive to the system, the acknowledgement of wrong. the only thing harder, to bev, is to forgive. she doesn't know if eddie knows how. she knows she doesn't.

bill tries to follow them up the castle, and ends up Flat on his back in the mulch. he groans. eddie takes a self-satisfied picture from the top. 

bev Wheezes until her throat is Burning.

richie and bill push stan on a swing. they insist he can go in a full loop without. Dying.

ben is doing very quick math in his head, directing angles and mostly agreeing with their terrible idea.

stan is wild with laughter on the swing. eddie is shrieking from the top of the castle to Not Kill Stan. it is modestly apparent that eddie does not know how to get down from the roof of the castle. bev slithers down the side, tumbling into the mulch, scraping and unashamed in a way eddie just can’t throw himself off of things.

but he’s not her Concern at the moment. because they number Six.

mike is sitting by himself by the van on a curb. she watched him fumble with his medicine at lunch, meticulous little capsules in day of the week boxes. he’s not himself, not fully. he’s trying not to let it show, trying to do voices with puppets and climb castles and impersonate the president.

“Mike,” she says. as if He is Unfamiliar with the Concept of his Name. he looks up at her, like maybe he Is.

“hey.”

“are you…” she sits next to him on the curb. her jeans Need to be washed. she’ll add that to the list of things that Need to happen that Won’t right now. she doesn’t answer her question. he fiddles with his Hands. They’re not as Calloused as she imagined they Might be. he’s tired - he looks tired. she doesn’t Know what to Say at the moment. he’s feeling off. he’s not got the bubbles. he’s out here trying without the bubbles. he doesn’t need to tell her that. she already knows it. it’s Not a discussion that’s necessary. she redirects. she goes for funny. “i think if we’re not careful, rich is going to go back for a puppet. then we’d be stuck in a car with rich. and a puppet.”

mike snorts. “that sounds scary.”

“oh, i just saw the one he’s in love with,” she looks over her shoulder. “it’s terrifying. i might have to wrestle it away from him.”

“you’re braver than me, bev.” mike jokes, jostling his arm into hers.

she looks at him. “i’m really not.” he doesn’t look at her, but she speaks anyway “you’re trying, mike.”

because it’s easy to be brave with the laugh in your chest. in vermont. in a puppet museum. it’s simple to be Beverly Marsh surrounded by the Six of them with her feet on scrappy floorboards and not the grody linoleum of her apartment, not hiding behind a door, face tucked into her sweater. here, where she’s Happy. Here. where they eat ramen for lunch with water from a gas station, sitting where the seats are still pushed down in a huddled Circle - there’s no Try with that, there’s just Is. She Doesn’t Know How to Try - she’s not mike. she just knows how to do. How to Do, and how to Wait, in the in betweens. How to Do, and how to accept bev Marsh for the time being, at home. two and a half more years of high school. two and a half more years of bev Marsh.

she can Do that.

she can’t Try.

Chapter Text

The worst part for Mike is the inconsistency. When he went to sleep the night before, all he could see was the grey lining of his sleeping bag. He didn’t know if he was going to take the meds in the morning. He didn’t know how to deal with the apathy returning.

When he wakes up, it's to Ben playing a song by Wham! and the first thing he did is smile.

And the next two days are so bright.

Mike barely knew he could feel the color green in his hands. But when he reaches out of Ben’s van and drags his hands along the pine trees, he feels like their spindles are breaking off and buzzing the color directly into his fingertips. When they’re wandering through a forest towards a witch grave Eddie was rambling about, there’s no green on the trees but there’s green in his hands, and spring will come again. He says that to Bill, whose eyes are distant and clouded, but he nods. Spring is in Mike’s hands. He knows it.

At one point in time he sits with Ben on a mossy green log. Everyone else is taking to running in circles, and Ben is showing him his notebook. Their dirt smudged fingers examine the pages, and the poetry, and Mike knows the green is passing between them. The possibility.

And the next morning, when he has to put on Bev’s sunglasses during an early morning drive, his eyelids are yellow. They squint and hide from the attacking orange of the sky under heart shaped lenses. They crinkle, specks of yellow sleep falling from the corners and he laughs at his reflection. They tint everything with gold, sunspots falling on his friend’s hair when they try on clothes from decades ago in a small vintage shop. They see glitter in Stan’s smile when Mike tells him a terrible pun and the moon reflected in Richie’s glasses the night they all sit out and watch stars in a malformed circle. Everything, as they travel slowly, town to town, taking photos of their shoes and tired, gross bodies, eating all the junk food that they can afford, and laughing along to playlists made while charging a phone in a starbucks, is coated in yellow. Nearly gold, it glistens with their laughter and shines with youth and reckless, endlessness. The sort of yellow that makes you forget any other color exists.

But life was not actually yellow.

The thing is, Mike sees it. Part of it. But it’s tinted. He sees the pink in Eddie’s cheeks, but to him it’s sherbert-y gold. He sees blue around his mouth, but it’s merely chartreuse to him. All he can really register when he looks at Eddie is the yellow, is him running leaps right on to Bill’s back and shrieking laughter with Bev, the yellow yellow yellow.

But Mike doesn’t really know that until he himself is plunged into blue.

He remembers that an artist once said there is no blue without yellow.

He thinks it’s true.

If the days hadn’t been so yellow, he isn’t sure if he would have been able to tell the blue from the grey.

They’re driving down the highway. It’s late, it’s well past midnight. Richie is telling a ghost story and getting frustrated because Stan keeps making sarcastic “oooh~”ing sounds and it’s quite funny. Mike is sitting in the back with Eddie asleep on his shoulder, near to falling asleep in his lap. Bev is on Eddie’s other side, his hand tangled in hers. She’s near to dozing off on the window.

(Eddie and Bev were talking that evening at dinner about their shirts sticking to them, loud and sweet, about how they all needed a shower. They were all laughing.

Mike watched Richie lick his lips and unlock his phone. He called and got them double room at a motel skeevy enough that they won’t ask him for his i.d. They’re on their way now. He doesn’t know when Richie’s going to tell Eddie. Or if he will at all. He doesn’t know why Richie won’t just talk to him like a normal person, but Mike doesn’t know if he really understands Richie.)

“Guys.” Ben interrupts, loudly. It might be the loudest Mike’s ever heard Ben speak. The car slows in speed. He changes lanes. “Everyone unbuckle and get down.”

Mike sees it reflected on to the plastic wrappers on Bev’s laps. The flash of red and blue. The navy splashes itself on to his legs first, freezing cold water. It hits his heart next.

“Me, too?” Stan asks from the passenger seat. Bev has already shook Eddie awake. Mike is staring at the back of the chair ahead of him. He doesn’t move yet.

“No.” Ben swallows. “If it’s a sobriety check-point, you’re my cousin.”

“Mom’s side,” Stan adds. “Your Aunt is Jane.”

“Okay.”

“We’re on our way home from our cousin Meghan’s wedding. It was at a church. The reception ran late, but we have choir practice for Christmas tomorrow.”

Stan snorts “Christmas?”

“Stan, you’re my cousin.”

Stan laughs. “Got it.”

They’re breaking a plethora of laws. They’re a group of teenagers out past curfew driving with a license with a single passenger limit. With maybe a missing person in their car, if they know Sonia Kaspbrak at all.

“Mike!” Eddie tugs on his pants. He’s slipped between the two seats in front of them. He’s laying on the ground. Bev is laying down on the floor by his feet. He thinks he should move his feet so she can lay there. He stares at his pants. “Mike, you need to get down!”

“I-” it’s reached his fingers. It saturates them from the inside out, the icy indigo.

“Mike!” Richie’s voice is harsher. It cuts. “Mike, what the fuck, man, get down.” He can’t see Richie. The dark cuts through all of them.

“I’m-”

“Mike, please.” Eddie’s hands are just grabbing at his shirt. They tug him so he’s pulled to the side, towards the seat. Bev’s fingers reach up and unclick his seatbelt. He lays down on the backseat.

When they pass by the cars, he sees the lights reflected on the windows. The car itself sighs. They pulled someone over, someone says, it’s not a check point. They’re laughing. Mike is still wrapped in blue. Suffocating in the blue.

“Mike, are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he responds.

When the car stops, and the yellow light on the ceiling floods the car, he hasn’t sat back up, yet.

The doors are opening on the sides, sliding all old school style. Bill asks him to come sit out side with them.

They’re in a parking lot for a McDonald’s. He sits on a parking spot divider. Bill is watching him.

“Man,” Richie plops down next to him, and everyone seems to take a breath, “you’re being fucking weird, Mike.” He tells him tactlessly.

“Am I?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s not fucking okay,” Richie’s leg bounces incessantly. “Talk to us, buddy, what do we need to do?”

“Nothing. I’m alright,” he replies. He’s breathing, he notes. He’s got all his limbs. Pretty alright.

“We shouldn’t be here,” Ben adds. Ben is still somewhat sitting in the van. He’s sitting in the open door of it. His feet are hanging out. He looks un-Ben-like. His eyes are wide and panicked. “What the fuck have we done?”

Mike doesn’t know what that question means.

Ben stands up, and paces. He asks for water. Stan scrambles to get it. He’s pacing in circles, then. He sits down. He chokes on the water. He paces again. He’s wheezing.

“It’s fucking awful. You can tell yourself it isn’t-”

He’s mumbling incoherently for the most part. Or Mike thinks so. He’s not paying attention to what Bev says to him, he’s watching Ben.

“so you pack yourselves into a car-” Ben’s mumbling grows louder. Bill tries to grab Ben. Eddie shoves him back. Eddie stands a foot away from Ben, and repeatedly calls his name. “and you parade around-” Ben looks at Eddie. “and you hold out hope, you PRAY, that maybe one day she’ll see a fraction of what YOU see in HER and not the DISGRACE-”  Eddie is standing a foot away, with his hands open wide.

And Mike sees through the blue. He sees everything painted on Eddie’s skin. He sees the blue mouth and the thin, purple fingers, and the red-rimmed, panicked eyes and the pink, angry cheeks with knobby green elbows. The boy who loses fights to mashed potatoes and peas, the boy who smashed a phone at the drop of a hat and ran, who became a missing persons to be with his friends, who twists back and forth between full conformity and utter defiance. Who sometimes can’t tell the difference between the two.

The boy whose voice is shaking and unsturdy but persists as he battles through Ben’s rants.

“AND YOU’RE STILL A FUCKING FAT PIECE OF-”

“Take a breath with me, Ben, inhale, one, two-”  only one who could step up to talk Ben through a panic-attack, what Mike sees now, blue-stained tear streaked face and red throat, because he knows how to deal with panic attacks. Mike can see it now. He remembers the pink. The long trips to the bathroom after Richie touched his shoulder. The green. The long pauses in between bites. Eddie’s dealt with panic attacks every day since they’ve left.

“Exhale. Yes. Again.”

And he had done it alone.

It’s dark in the parking lot. The golden arch reflects all of the blonde, yellow pieces of Eddie’s hair as he talks to Ben calmly. It haloes him. He haloes the rest of them.

“Start with your shoulders, Ben-” Ben is shaking, and he rubs the snot off his face with his hands. “Roll them back. Remember what we-” Eddie bones are visible in his ankles. His veins are dark in his arms. He is frail. Mike thinks he could snap his arm in half if he wanted to. He is exhausted. There isn’t one color under his eye, the days, and nights sleeping in a car, lend themselves into a watercolor eye-bag. His voice trembles as he talks through an exercise.

And when Ben finally collapses from his tower, the one he built himself, he falls, or throws himself, into the arms of Eddie Kaspbrak. He holds him up.

Mike knows he would not have been able to.

Chapter Text

mike is laying down flat on the bed. he is not! asleep!! eddie can tell! unlike ben, who passed the fuck out next to him as soon as he laid down! bev and stan shuck off shoes and curl up in the other bed, still propped up like they’re sort of sitting. but clearly exhausted. who wouldn’t be! it’s almost 3 am!

the last two hours have been the worst!!! just the worst! eddie never knew it would tear his heart right out of his chest to watch ben hanscom cry but holy shit it was the worst thing in the world!! he barely calmed down enough to drive. and the mcdonald’s didn’t have icecream. eddie thinks the night has him so worked up he would have eaten it!! ben drove them to this motel and eddie was shocked because no one mentioned it to him, but they checked in with the likely on-drugs front desk person and shuffled to the room silently. eddie’s mind has never been less silent. what if ben doesn’t feel better when he gets up!! he shouldn’t drive like this!!! they’re only two days away from home!! his mother is going to strangle him!! to death!!!

eddie is planning his escape to the bathroom to breathe and do counting exercises, but richie speaks first.

“welp.” richie says. he interrupts the soft melancholy of the room with a flat tone. like he doesn’t care at all!! maybe he just doesn’t. with his hands on his hips, he says. “i’m gonna see if i can set the shower on fire.”

mike! is! not!! asleep!

eddie is appalled , and directs his look at bill. bill hardly looks surprised. he blinks with apathy as richie shuts the bathroom door behind him.

“what the fuck!” eddie tells bill, in the room of others, but mostly to bill. “what the fuck is his problem!” he could strangle richie. he could!!! do it!!! after an insufferable three days!!! of nothing but jokes and no fucking apologies because no matter what was going on the funniest joke would always be eddie’s existence!! especially if you kissed him for a laugh in front of everybody!!! hilarious!!! then ignored it!!! peak of comedy!!! all eddie wanted was a lousy apology! he knows that’s a weak sentence!! eddie is a weak person! who just got friends!! and doesn’t want to fuck it up with demands!!! an apology is just not a lot to expect, and he fucking refuses to ask for it!! then it’s barely an apology!! and richie should know!! richie should apologize first, that’s how it fucking works! but no!! eddie is arguing with bill, and richie is trying to light a shower on fire!!!

“baby hasn’t been the center of attention for,” he checks his phone “three hours, so he throws a tantrum.” he replies plainly, sinking into the couch under the tv console with a yawn. “he’s fine.”

“he’s not fine!!”

“he won’t be able to do it,” he yawns, “it’s a shower.”

“bill! you need to go talk to him. he can’t try!” what was bill not getting about this!!

“well, he’s going to try whether you want him to or not.”

“bill!”

“eddie.” bill is already shutting his eyes on the little couch. eddie wants to shove it and him out of the window! “give it up. let it be, it’s late.”

eddie kaspbrak, so far as he can tell, is a neurotic, frail, screeching mongoose with temper issues to his ears and elegance the size of his pinky.

but what he’s NOT is a fucking quitter!!!

what a combination!

richie didn’t lock the bathroom door, because of course he didn’t!!! that’s not the point!! he did this to be followed, and eddie hates himself but he’s gotta follow him!!

“richie tozier,” he growls, slamming the bathroom door behind him. “GET OUT of this GODDAMNED SHOWER before i MAKE YOU get out of it.” richie is crouched in the far corner of the bathtub shower thing, fiddling with some small, palm sized jug in his hands. his hair is greasy and disgusting, tangled worse than eddie has seen it. his glasses slope on his nose.

richie! that absolute, motherfucking asshole doesn’t even LOOK at him!! he SNORTS, “how, shortstack?”

eddie fumes!! almost to the point of steam coming straight out of his ears, he’s kind of sure!!! to that weird point where his consciousness goes dark and his body get struck by lightning and something in him decides to kick the handle of the shower. it flies to the side and water pours down.

richie jumps. actually jumps, and almost bumps his head. he flies around, swear words firing out, and blindly reaches for the handle. eddie grabs his arms! the cold water pours over both of their outstretched arms. richie tries to fling him off. eddie steps up directly into the shower, into his path.

“turn it off.” richie looks unamused. annoyed, even. his hair is limp and wet around his face, dry at the back, and it hangs against his skin. eddie holds his ground. “fucking, turn it off, eddie!”

eddie is now standing directly!! under!! the fucking faucet!! “fuck you, richie!” 

“fuck- fu, fuck me?!” richie yells back incredulously, finally flinging off eddie’s hold on him. his purple plaid shirt is saturated, sticking to him. “seriously, eddie, fuck me?! you’re the one,” he jabs at his chest, “who hasn’t talked to me in a motherfucking week. fuck you, kid.”

“WHAT DID YOU- Of fuCKING COURSE, NO SHIT?” eddie wasn’t anticipating the yell but it explodes out of him. he shoves richie back a little bit, but there’s nowhere to go. in the shower or in his words!! he doesn’t know what he’s yelling he’s so furious at him!!!

“PUSH ME ONE MORE FUCKING TIME, ED-”

“I’LL PUSH YOU TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GODDAMN UNIVERSE, YOU’RE LUCKY I DIDN’T PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE-”

the water IS VERY VERY COLD!!! THIS SUCKS!!!

“I WOULD RATHER TAKE THAT THAN THE FUCKING COLD SHOULD-”

“OH FUCK YOU-”

“WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING?”

“WELL, I DON’T - I FUCKING-”

“LIKE, WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?”

“STOP RICHIE, JUST STOP IT, GET OUT OF THE SHOW-”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT, EDDIE, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST-”

“HOW ABOUT SORRY? HOW ABOUT THAT YOU’RE SORRY-”

“SORRY?! THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT?? FOR FUCKING WHAT-”

“SORRY?! BECAUSE YOU USED ME-”

“OKAY, THEN, EDDIE, I’M SORRY-”

“SORRY YOU HUMILIATED ME-”

“I’M SORRY THAT I FUCKING LIKE YOU.”

eddie’s blood runs colder than the shower, and his throat is hoarse and hot in a sharp juxtaposition. richie is standing there, flushed, nose to nose with him. somehow still sweaty and greasy and disgusting from the car. his eyes are hidden, behind water flecks on his speckled glasses.

the silence in the room is loud. nothing sounds but the water pitter pattering on their cheeks, on the tub.

the silence in eddie’s mind is louder.

it’s a flatlined, buzzing noise, that’s all he can think of, his vision of whatever isn’t richie blurring.

richie licks his lips, freeing them of the excess water, and reaches behind eddie. he shuts off the water, slow, and calculated.

“it’s too cold for that,” he jokes quietly. in a more gentle, yet somehow guarded voice than eddie has ever heard from him. “we’re gonna get sick.”
“no,” eddie replies quickly, “we’re not.”

richie smiles.

how fucking sad, kaspbrak , an intrusive thought doesn’t smack him in the back of the head the way they do, or scream from his stomach lining or radiate from his headache. all this time over-analyzing, overthinking ,  it whispers at him, and your self esteem is so fucked up that you never once considered that he did it just because he likes you.

and what is he supposed to say now? that he likes him too?

richie steps past him. he grabs a towel from the door, and he passes it to eddie. “i’m sorry,” he tells him awkwardly, “that i humiliated you.” he turns quickly, grabbing the glasses off of his face.

“that’s not what i meant.” eddie insists, before richie can put his hand on the door handle. richie turns back with a new, curious expression. god, his body is angular. eddie can see it under the wet clothes, looking like a drowned mop.

“you wanted attention.” eddie tells him, thinking of that day, of richie noticing the crowd and then just leaning down. he doesn’t say it like a question, because it’s not one. and if richie denies it, eddie doesn’t know if he’ll ever really be able to trust him.

“i like you.” richie repeats. it’s not related, but it’s a response.

eddie’s heart is beating! holy shit it’s trying to run a marathon in there!! his body is freezing!! he wraps himself in the towel, right around his shoulders, and he keeps staring richie down because !!! what the fuck is he supposed to do!!

“i thought it was a joke.”

“i was sticking up for you.”

“you stuck your tongue in my mouth.”

richie looks like he’s about to laugh, but he sticks his, now streaked but less wet glasses back on. they’re getting water everywhere!! he observes eddie’s flat face. “...it wasn’t a joke.” he says after a moment.

“everything’s a joke to you.”

richie swallows, and faint annoyance falls over his face. he slides off his plaid shirt, leaving his sopping black tshirt clinging to him. “fucking, christ- eddie.” eddie realizes that richie’s hands are shaking. he tells himself it’s from cold.

it’s not from the cold.

“does this,” he holds his hands out, looking the most open richie has ever looked, honesty on his face instead of his dumb smirk, his voice high and clear, not masked with a bad accent, “look like a joke to you?” he asks, voice almost sounding hurt.

“i, just.” eddie swallows. “um.”

okay here is the thing: being gay was something that was probably going to be fine in theory !! i mean, in practical application maybe in college or something but it never seemed worth the time to explore in high school, he meant jesus, what a fucking hassle the whole thing was!! and for what?? and so here it is, here’s a boy standing in front of him a boy eddie spent countless minutes staring at his phone waiting for texts from and who he thought of when he heard a dumb cheesey love song at costco and who he researched reddit for, because somewhere in the back of his mind he could admit he just kind of wanted to impress him and eddie didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing or saying because this this this this seemed completely out of reach! this didn’t seem feasible!! this wasn’t an option, it isn’t supposed to be an option, not for people like him!! there are no boys with growth spurts and wavy hair and big knuckles and loud laughs for small gay kids in maine!! that’s not...that’s not how it’s supposed to go!! they don’t go to group therapies that actually help and they don’t get better and they don’t end up here, in a shady motel in another state, with a room full of friends, with a boy, a boy who likes him, in a bathroom. that just! doesn’t!! happen!!!

what was he looking for?? that day? that day weeks and weeks ago?

nothing !!!

he wasn’t looking for anything!!

“eddie, are you okay?” richie steps forward and eddie shifts back.

no one goes looking for something they’re not expecting to find!!

richie stops and holds his hands up defensively, like he won’t come closer.

eddie reaches up and grabs one. it’s as cold as he’s expecting!! richie’s fingers curl instinctively around his and eddie’s insides curl up too, in a delighted squirm!!

“i, i lik- i’m sorry,” he presses a hand to his chest. he thinks he might actually have to get his inhaler. he might have to ruin all of this for a placebo. “i can’t breathe.”

richie steps back, but their hands are still clasped between them, and eddie does an exercise in his mind, hands shaking, breath unsteady. 1-2-3-4, inhale 5-6-7-8, exhale. richie’s hand is still shaking in his. “you’re shaking,” he observes aloud on his second loud exhale.

“you’re wheezing,” richie replies, not unkindly.

eddie looks up at him.

in the end, eddie thinks, their mouths meet in the middle. eddie's too much wheezing, too much shaking, too much giddy, too much heart-thumping to really even think about it. their hands are still awkwardly clasped between them. in fact, eddie thinks everything about it might be awkward. to him, it's also wonderful. unfathomably so.

someone knows, gentle and thrice. eddie steps back. richie is beaming at him, glasses lifted by his grin. eddie smiles back, until they're both giggling. the door cautiously opens, and on the other side, is ben.

"hey guys," he rubs at his eye. they're red from tears, from earlier. he looks wrecked. he looks worse than any of them, destroyed. he should be asleep. "is everything okay? i don't think i can sleep until it is-" and eddie's heart flutters with something else, pure admiration for ben. after having a shattering panic attack, he can't sleep until they sort their shit out? eddie know's he'll one day be many things. one day he'll outgrow derry, all of this. or he hopes so. but he doesn't think he'll ever grow to know selflessness, quite like ben is. 

"i think," richie's hand swipes over eddie's forearm. "everything is as okay as it possibly can be." and eddie laughs. and so does ben, quietly. because the other loser's are probably close to sleeping. eddie thinks that maybe if he could think like ben does, he might have avoided some of this mess. it doesn't matter now. eddie's clothes are sticking to him and freezing, but richie is warm on his arm and ben is exuding warmth from three feet away.

and somehow, this exact amount of okay, from wet socks to mold in the ceiling, is more than eddie could have ever dreamed of looking for. 

Chapter Text

so, as it turns out, ben hanscom is fat. where he used to be hovering above his body, he’s now hyper-aware of it. his jeans are always tight in one place or another, and his stomach hangs over his waistband just enough to be noticable.

he isn’t sure how he could have lived so unaware of it, so separated from the nights where he would open his pantry and take whatever was in it until he was tired enough to go to sleep. he was just. not fully cognisant of the situation, he supposes.

now, he’s aware.

he’s very aware of the filth in his mom’s ex-van, the empty chip bags and soda cans, and he realizes that they very similarly litter his room. his mom has ceased to have the energy to fight with him about it as he’d just avoid her. he’s aware of the dirt smudged into his phone case, in the crevices, and the fact he had likely failed a class that semester.

he’s well aware of the dirt ground into their carpet at this motel and the stains on the bedding, the small crack that distorts the color in the tv.

they sit in the beds and watch tvs until the front desk kicks them out, anyway.

and ben is trying to keep his shit together. he’s trying to accept the world around him as what it is which seems simple and maybe it is but his breathing keeps falling uneven anyway. he thinks about leaving about taking a long walk until it all clears but there’s no where he could go that they wouldn’t follow him at that point.

so they sit and they watch movies. rapunzel is longer than ben remembers it being.

whatever development richie and eddie experienced the night prior they make an earnest attempt at keeping it to themselves but the two of them are truly magnets, opposite in every way and impossible to keep apart.

they don’t question it until richie calls eddie “cute, cute, cute !” and eddie doesn’t yell at him or flip him off but he laughs to himself and wrinkles his nose and stan bluntly says “alright, what the fuck.” and bev is grinning like she already knows and she probably does because what doesn’t she know?

eddie goes pink “nothing.” while richie replies “i’ve acquired a sudden taste for italian,” in a godawful italian accent, and he squeezes eddie’s hips next to him and eddie smacks him.

“i wouldn’t call it sudden,” mike comments smugly from his chair, elbowing bill with a grin. bill looks surprised, and then he nods. bill is distant today, even moreso than before. ben doesn’t understand.

stan blinks, like he’s reanalyzing this situation. “okay,” he shrugs.

which is apparently enough for stan, and the rest of them.

they’re on their way to their last destination. christmas eve is in two days. they’ll drive home tomorrow night. it’s a park in maine bill insists on. he, and stan and mike, apparently, wore themselves out. they’re asleep in the passenger and middle seats. ben listens to the radio, and the soft chatter of the three in the back.

“i love this picture, rich,” bev says with a grin. she is the only one who doesn’t really mind being crammed in the back with eddie and richie, who, now that they are speaking, are inseparable. richie seems to think it unfathomable to go a moment without touching eddie in some form of capacity, and eddie grins and grins at that development. eddie’s now got one of his legs splayed over richie’s lap, where he sits in between him and bev, fingers drumming against eddie’s thigh. ben thinks it’s sweet. “i want to post it on instagram.”

“will your da-” eddie starts and then stops before he finishes.

she shakes her head. “i won’t have a phone at all when i get back. but he doesn’t know i have it. i always delete the app after i use it.” she shrugs.

richie logs himself out of his instagram and hands his phone over. “go wild.”

bev logs in and chastises them as she does it, “don’t start kissing,” she warns. “help me think of captions.”

ben doesn’t know what picture they’re talking about, but richie’s captions ideas seem nonsensical regardless. eddie has a hand curled into his hair, and he’s giggling into his shoulder, inching closer and closer to just sitting in richie’s lap.

bev goes silent and locks richie’s phone.

“what, bev,” he knocks his shoulder into hers. ben switches lanes. “you shouldn’t give up on the whole photo.”

“i’m not,” she replies curtly.

eddie scoots forward, “well, what did you post it with?” he grabs for the phone in her hand. “i wanna see!”

“i didn’t fucking post it!” she yells suddenly. mike stirs next to ben. ben’s hands freeze momentarily on the wheel. “enough, already!”

she doesn’t hand richie’s phone back to him.

ben slowly turns up the song on the radio to cover the silence.

the beejees have never been less appropriate.

the campground is another campground. ben isn’t sure he knows the difference between them. it's winter. the trees are dead and everything looks the same. it's still freezing, the sort of cold that sets your skin to ice, the breeze figure skating across it. bill and richie set up the tent, and bill is talking, finally, but to him. richie is looking like he's having a hard time being serious, glancing over at eddie every few moments. eddie and mike are fiddling with the camping charcoal stove. ben and stan go to brush their teeth.

stan blanches at the camp bathroom. he turns pale.

ben looks around and sees it.

he wonders if this is how stan sees all of the time.

he sees the crumbling wood panels and the rusted sinks and the stained countertop, the random piles of toilet paper on the floor, the sounds of wind hitting a not-fully insulated building and the creaking locks on the doors.

he sees stans hands twitch towards the broken soap dispenser and gets the small waft of pine scent that is anything but comforting at the moment, ben runs his hands over the grit of his jeans and he finally says to stan “let’s go, i’ll drive us to a fast food joint, or something.”

stan looks like he’s about to protest, but he turns and leaves anyway.

and he knows stan is an organizer, in his relationships, in his mind, in his life. he compartmentalizes and controls. to leave a space as awful as it looks when he stepped in isn’t something that comes naturally to stan. stan made their beds before they left the hotel.

he takes chaos and he restores order.

and ben doesn’t know how stan does it, how he survives at all, if he’s always aware of this much chaos the way ben is right now. ben doesn’t think he could.

and in truth, he knows. he knows about the cellulite and the grub in his shoelaces and giant red x’s on tests and the unfortunate smeared eyeliner and that bev probably doesn’t like him in the way he likes her. he knows the world is dirty and awkward and poor smelling often. he knows that some would consider it an awful place to be.

he begs to differ.

even now, as he is exhausted and illegally driving him and stan down a highway to a mcdonald’s. because there is the ache in his body, painful and dull, radiating from his joints. it is in some sort of way, a joyous pain. it reminds him of the time he’s spent on his feet, the tree he climbed with bill. that his body moves freely, even. the wrappers littering the floor just serve as symbols of the food they’ve shared, laughing about anything there was to.

if he couldn’t avoid reality, he could let it make him miserable. he really could. it’d be easy, he thinks, as he brushes his teeth next to stan in a more acceptable bathroom.

or he could wait.

he could tell himself that one day he’d be happy, one day he’d be brushing his teeth in a swanky apartment with a pretty girl waiting for him. he thinks lots of people do. i’ll be happy when i’m thin or when i’ve graduated or when i have the job i want or when she loves me.

but he could also be grateful for the happiness right in front of him. he can revel in the small amount of elation he finds in that stan’s shirt is wrinkled and he’s not fussing with it every few seconds. he can laugh with stan as they tell the group-chat they got eaten by a bear. he can let himself seek light in the the cracks, in the spaces between what should and shouldn’t be.

ben hanscom doesn’t know much. he doesn’t the capital of Montana or when mirrors were invented. he doesn’t know if tomorrow he’d be off the floor again, or in his own mind more than reality. he doesn’t know how much time he has. he does know, he was taught, to take it one step, on a grody mcdonald’s floor, at a time.

and he knows, regardless of his body, that to find himself unworthy of happiness is a waste of his time.

Chapter Text

Stanley Uris wakes up that day disoriented. He has barely registered the light as a piece of life. It's as if it manages to surprise him every day with it’s demanding presence. But that's not really the source of confusion. He rolls over and there's a crop of matted red hair under Mike’s arm. Unless Mike has truly bizarre underarm hair that Stan has thus far failed to notice, and it's Stan so that's highly doubtful, there's an addition to their tent. He sits up and squints at them. Beverly looks wrecked under Mike’s arm. She's clearly in a deep sleep, been so for hours, but her under eyes are still red and puffy. She looks blissfully peaceful, copper streaks tangled in a small nest, like that a robin might build.  On her other side, protectively curled up around her, and still not touching her at all, all protruding elbows with scabs and ripped up fingernail beds, is Richie. Eddie is flopped half over his stomach, mouth agape as he drools on his shirt. Stan gets the feeling that he most definitely missed something. When he went to sleep, everyone was winding down for the night.

He rolls out of his sleeping bag, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He thinks blithely of changing into his packed clothes for the day, but instead just shoves his sneakers on his feet. He hears gentle talking just outside of the tent, and he can only assume it's Bill and Ben, because their spots are vacant. Or something really happened and Bill snapped and killed Ben and is now talking to himself. But that seems pretty doubtful. Stan grabs his coat, just to go check.

They hush when Stan emerges from the tent. Ben looks sleepy, yawning into his palm, ruddy blush on his cheeks.

Bill looks exhausted. In a completely unromantic way, with dark under eyes that cloud his light eyes. It seems like there are little wrinkles by his mouth and eyebrows. Stan doesn't think 16 year olds are capable of wrinkling. He still manages to look somehow handsome, capable and sturdy.

“Hey, guys,” he sits at the picnic bench next to Ben and he doesn't even examine it first. He thinks about it, but he doesn't.

“Morning’,” Ben mostly greets his hand.

Stan jerks his head over his shoulder, “what did I miss?” He asks with a casual smile. He brushes off a patch of dirt on the table. He assumes that it was a game of truth or dare that wore them out or something, but the look Ben and Bill share in the moment tell him otherwise. There’s a lull… “Oh?”

“It's not bad,” Bill insists quickly, “I think it'll be… good?” He looks to Ben for validation in that thought. Ben nods quickly, but hesitantly. His blonde hair is streaky for having showered yesterday morning, it falls into his eyes.

“... care to share with the class?” Stan raises an eyebrow. The fact that there's information out there that they're not freely sharing with him is making his hands twitch a little bit. Even if there's nothing to be done with it, he'd like to know.

“Uh…” Ben looks away.

“I think Bev will want to tell you herself.”

If this were a sitcom, Bev would've appeared at that moment and sassily retorted “ talking about me, fellas? ”  

But it isn't.

It's a park in Maine. It's very cold and deserted, but there's no snow on the ground. And the only sound is the distant chirping of birds and they just stare at each other.

When Bev wakes up, it's apparent that everyone knows the something that Stan doesn't, and it doesn't seem like the perfect time to demand information. So he patiently waits for her to bring it up. Which, knowing Bev, he might literally never know.

As far as Stan can tell, this park is a nice park, especially in the summer, but it's… a park. He isn't sure what made Bill exactly so insistent on it, because he himself seems the most distant.

By mid morning, when the mist has for the most part settled, but left its kiss on every branch and blade of grass, they go to the playground. There's a big plastic protrusion from the ground shaped like a ship. Richie bounds to the top and childishly declares it his ship.

“Join me, Sketti!” He holds out a grand hand down for Eddie. For a moment, Eddie just stares at it, as if he's judging himself for every decision he's made that had led him to this moment.

Then Mike picks up a hand full of mulch, makes a very unconvincing canon sound, and throws it at Richie’s side.

Richie gasps with all the drama of a telenova star, “an attack!” He yells, “from the southern starboard port!!” he leans down, and tugs Eddie up whether he wants to go or not. He's not quite strong enough to just pick him up, so Stan knows some part of Eddie went willingly, despite the shrieking, giggling protest.

“That's not even a part of a ship, Richie!!” Eddie plays along as Richie tugs him to sit with his back against the edge of the ship.

And then Ben and Mike are pelting the side of the ship with wood chips and Stan can't help but admire Richie Tozier, because Stanley Uris is laughing because a 16 year old boy with acne is imitating a pirate and that's nothing short of a feat.

People can complain all they like about the absurdity, but Bill is grabbing Mike and Ben by the neck and they're discussing a strategy like this matters, and Stan knows it's impossible to not get sucked into the charm and games of Richie Tozier.

And who knows, maybe it does matter.

And maybe it only matters because Stan successfully shields the ship from their attack, he, Bev, Richie and Eddie running to the other side just in time, laughing as wood chips rained down from above.

Their strategy is weak and feeble as it is a made up game on a made up boat but it lands Eddie with hair filled with wood chips. Richie pulls out his camera to take a photo of him as Ben roughly apologizes and picks them out, Eddie laughing and holding on to his arms.

Richie’s phone makes a bright dinging noise, and Bev gaspes, leaning in to nearly grab it out of his hands. “Is it-”

Richie doesn’t look as surprised as he should, and shows her the screen.

“No, Bev,” Richie shakes his head, holding up his phone. “It’s just my Dad. Do you want to-”

“Oh, no,” Bev shakes her head like she feels silly. “No, it’s okay. I told her I’d see her tonight.” Stan is officially confused, so he moves his care to explain face specifically in Bev’s direction. She hesitates for a second, but her face is unable to keep from splitting into a smile. “Uh, my Aunt Clara,” her voice sounds a little strangled, “found me on Instagram last night and messaged me. I called her late last night. And I told her-.” Stan nods rapidly, because he knows what she told her, and her eyes are welling up with tears. Stan hates watching Bev cry. “Yeah.” She croaks out happily with a tear falling down her cheek. She told her everything. She told someone .

This should be more of a thing, Stan realizes. There should be a lot more to this. But he supposes that’s just adolescent selfishness clouding him. It’s not about him, it’s about Bev. And she’s smiling- beaming, more like, light radiating out of her face and she giggles and she nods again. Stan opens his arms before he realizes he does. She crashes into them, and with her comes joy. And it’s just one of those times, and Stan can acknowledge it as childish and naive, that he feels like he knows everything. Where he’s instilled with some sort of everlasting teenage wisdom. Everything comes together in a way he’s sure it hasn’t before. The pain of yesterday, of Something or other, the sun or the planets or whatever, he doesn’t really care, clicks and not only does everything make sense, but it’s okay. The sheer light-bodied, full-laughed okayness overwhelms him a little bit. With it comes the thought of Bev’s dirt on her hands on his back, and the grease in her hair, and it’s still somehow nothing short of wonderful. He floats the rest of the way around the playground, back to their site to clean up, and finally, finally, go home.


They’re in the tent trying to roll up sleeping bags with too many people in it. Eddie is batting Richie’s hands away, laughing loudly and saying that ‘Bill should do it, Bill’s better at it, where is-” And Bev is giggling, turning and unzipping the tent. They had closed it to keep out the wind. Bill isn’t where Stan thought he was, he’s sitting on the ground by the overlook. He’s holding his knees to his chest. Mike sits next to him, feet dangling over the edge.

“Shh-” Stan hushes the group, leaning out and squinting.

“Hey, man,” he hears Mike say even from the distance, watching Bill hunched over his knees. He’s making noises Stan wasn’t expecting in the slightest. Hiccuping breaths and snuffling. “Remember what she said, like, group is only a foundation, you know? Like-”

“What’s going on?” Ben asks, muttering into the open air, not directing his question to anyone in particular. Richie unzips the tent a bit more. Bev gasps a little bit, the pink-cheeked delight fading away from her face. The five of them take in the sight ahead of them with rapidly chilling hearts and faces in the cold winter air. Something cruel and malicious cracked in Stan’s heart as he gets the urge to sprint towards them and yank Bill back away from the edge by the neck of his t-shirt. When Bill had decided they should put their tent there, neither of them had considering the small edge of the cliff as anything more than scenic.

Eddie seems to understand last, and makes a muffled sound of surprise into his hand. He grabs at Richie’s shirt. “Did Bill bring us all out here so he could kill himself?” He asks with muttled shock.

“No.” Richie replies firmly, unreceptive to Eddie’s touch, staring nearly blank-faced in front of them, “he brought us out so that by the time he got here he wouldn’t to.”

And he’s crying because he still kind of does ~ is the end of his sentence that Richie had finally managed to filter out.

Here’s the thing: Stan doesn’t like metaphors. Things may be similar to other things, but at the end of it all: they really just are what they are. They hear Mike talk about foundations for the future through tools of coping while Bill’s snuffling about killing his brother. It’s just not… the same. Humans aren’t houses, and every tool Mike’s talking about is a metaphysical one. They aren’t unchangingly solid, stagnant for life to move around, in and out of, as it pleases. They’re living organisms. They move, change, grow, fall. They’re just people. That are at one moment hugging on wood chips and laughing and the next on uneven ground with a plastic tent under their feet.  

Trying to build a foundation for a human is like trying to build a foundation for a sphere. It’ll just roll away anyway. Life will change, and it’ll be on brand new territory before you can finish leveling the ground it’s on. As far as Stan can tell, people don’t really understand humans, just like they don’t really understand spheres. The earth is a sphere, endless and always moving. Or, rather, really, full of edges. Only edges ends. Any place could be the end of the earth, with your feet on the ground and your face in the atmosphere. Stan knows he doesn’t really understand that, he can’t really fathom it. Just like he can’t fully understand people.

He doesn’t really understand why Bill is crying. He can know the situation, and he can’t empathize. But he can’t understand it, not fully. He certainly can’t tell Bill not cry about it, as if Stan knows what’s in his head.

As Stan hates to admit it, there’s only so many things people can control. He had to give up his need to tailor every moment to his liking and mold people and events as he desires them. His tools will only get him so far, and he can’t stay there on his own nice foundation that will keep him steady. Or hope that this too, shall pass, if he, like a house, merely waits it out. That’s not being a human. Being a human is stepping out into the unknown. With shaking legs, he steps out of the tent and gets knocked with a nasty bout of wind that makes it feel like his nose is about to fall off. Being a human is following Bill to the edge of the cliff. He is active in his life, and the world around him, but does not control it. He is not a house waiting out a storm or an ever-changing ocean or a growing sunflower or a rollercoaster. He is a human being.

He can't even really make full sense of everything he's thinking as thoughts of foundations and earth and people fly around his mind.

But he knows one thing certainly. 

He is Stanley Uris.

Stanley Uris looks down at Bill, who has grown quiet as he approached, feeling Mike’s curious eyes on his face. He, with a deep sigh and his hands shoved into his pockets, plops down. He says nothing, and sits down in the mud, dangling his legs over the edge of a cliff.

He doesn’t know what to do other than sit and be together. And apparently neither does anyone else, because slowly they’re joined by the rest of them, following each other to look out over the trees and rustling creeks, the birds chirping in the distance and the wind whipping at their faces.

At the edge of the cliff.

At the end of the earth.